The Power of a Single Qubit: Two-Way Quantum Finite Automata and the Word Problem

Author Zachary Remscrim

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Zachary Remscrim
  • Department of Mathematics, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA


The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Professor Michael Sipser for many years of mentorship and support, without which this work would not have been possible, to Professors Richard Lipton and David Vogan for very helpful conversations, and to the anonymous reviewers for many suggestions.

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Zachary Remscrim. The Power of a Single Qubit: Two-Way Quantum Finite Automata and the Word Problem. In 47th International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP 2020). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 168, pp. 139:1-139:18, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2020)


The two-way finite automaton with quantum and classical states (2QCFA), defined by Ambainis and Watrous, is a model of quantum computation whose quantum part is extremely limited; however, as they showed, 2QCFA are surprisingly powerful: a 2QCFA, with a single qubit, can recognize, with bounded error, the language L_{eq} = {a^m b^m :m ∈ ℕ} in expected polynomial time and the language L_{pal} = {w ∈ {a,b}^*:w is a palindrome} in expected exponential time. We further demonstrate the power of 2QCFA by showing that they can recognize the word problems of many groups. In particular 2QCFA, with a single qubit and algebraic number transition amplitudes, can recognize, with bounded error, the word problem of any finitely generated virtually abelian group in expected polynomial time, as well as the word problems of a large class of linear groups in expected exponential time. This latter class (properly) includes all groups with context-free word problem. We also exhibit results for 2QCFA with any constant number of qubits. As a corollary, we obtain a direct improvement on the original Ambainis and Watrous result by showing that L_{eq} can be recognized by a 2QCFA with better parameters. As a further corollary, we show that 2QCFA can recognize certain non-context-free languages in expected polynomial time. In a companion paper, we prove matching lower bounds, thereby showing that the class of languages recognizable with bounded error by a 2QCFA in expected subexponential time is properly contained in the class of languages recognizable with bounded error by a 2QCFA in expected exponential time.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Formal languages and automata theory
  • Theory of computation → Quantum computation theory
  • finite automata
  • quantum
  • word problem of a group


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