Many computational problems are subject to a quantum speed-up: one might find that a problem having an O(n³)-time or O(n²)-time classic algorithm can be solved by a known O(n^{1.5})-time or O(n)-time quantum algorithm. The question naturally arises: how much quantum speed-up is possible?

The area of fine-grained complexity allows us to prove optimal lower-bounds on the complexity of various computational problems, based on the conjectured hardness of certain natural, well-studied problems. This theory has recently been extended to the quantum setting, in two independent papers by Buhrman, Patro and Speelman [Buhrman et al., 2021], and by Aaronson, Chia, Lin, Wang, and Zhang [Aaronson et al., 2020].

In this paper, we further extend the theory of fine-grained complexity to the quantum setting. A fundamental conjecture in the classical setting states that the 3SUM problem cannot be solved by (classical) algorithms in time O(n^{2-ε}), for any ε > 0. We formulate an analogous conjecture, the Quantum-3SUM-Conjecture, which states that there exist no sublinear O(n^{1-ε})-time quantum algorithms for the 3SUM problem.

Based on the Quantum-3SUM-Conjecture, we show new lower-bounds on the time complexity of quantum algorithms for several computational problems. Most of our lower-bounds are optimal, in that they match known upper-bounds, and hence they imply tight limits on the quantum speedup that is possible for these problems.

These results are proven by adapting to the quantum setting known classical fine-grained reductions from the 3SUM problem. This adaptation is not trivial, however, since the original classical reductions require pre-processing the input in various ways, e.g. by sorting it according to some order, and this pre-processing (provably) cannot be done in sublinear quantum time.

We overcome this bottleneck by combining a quantum walk with a classical dynamic data-structure having a certain "history-independence" property. This type of construction has been used in the past to prove upper bounds, and here we use it for the first time as part of a reduction. This general proof strategy allows us to prove tight lower bounds on several computational-geometry problems, on Convolution-3SUM and on the 0-Edge-Weight-Triangle problem, conditional on the Quantum-3SUM-Conjecture.

We believe this proof strategy will be useful in proving tight (conditional) lower-bounds, and limits on quantum speed-ups, for many other problems.