An open problem that is widely regarded as one of the most important in quantum query complexity is to resolve the quantum query complexity of the k-distinctness function on inputs of size N. While the case of k=2 (also called Element Distinctness) is well-understood, there is a polynomial gap between the known upper and lower bounds for all constants k>2. Specifically, the best known upper bound is O (N^{(3/4)-1/(2^{k+2}-4)}) (Belovs, FOCS 2012), while the best known lower bound for k≥ 2 is Ω̃(N^{2/3} + N^{(3/4)-1/(2k)}) (Aaronson and Shi, J. ACM 2004; Bun, Kothari, and Thaler, STOC 2018).

For any constant k ≥ 4, we improve the lower bound to Ω̃(N^{(3/4)-1/(4k)}). This yields, for example, the first proof that 4-distinctness is strictly harder than Element Distinctness. Our lower bound applies more generally to approximate degree.

As a secondary result, we give a simple construction of an approximating polynomial of degree Õ(N^{3/4}) that applies whenever k ≤ polylog(N).