Spanish scientists create quantum artificial life for the first time ever

Researchers at the University of the Basque Country have developed a quantic algorithm that could encode life itself. With their work, the origin of life could eventually be explained by quantum mechanics.

Researchers from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) have developed a quantum artificial life algorithm in a quantum computer, which was the subject of many previous experiments. The newly created algorithm has been used to show that quantum computers can mimic some of the patterns of biology in the real world. This finding by the Spanish team could help understand the relation between quantum mechanics and the origin of life, since the same principles governing quantum physics may even have had a role to play in forming our genetic code.

The creation of the new algorithm followed a quantum biomimetic protocol that encodes tailored quantum behaviours belonging to living systems. Furthermore, like real nature, but unlike previous experiments that had taken a Newtonian, gradual, approach with logical progression, it has the capacity to produce unexpected results.

Random changes were thus introduced into the algorithm via rotations of the quantum state in the simulation of two qubits (the basic building blocks of quantum physics), one representing the genotype (the genetic code passed down from generation to generation) and the other representing the phenotype (the outward expression of that code).

These two qubits were encoded to self-replicate, mutate, interact, and die. The experiment was repeated 24,000 times in a four-qubit quantum processor developed by IBM: the IBM Cloud Quantum. The results, which were identical to those predicted in a theoretical model developed by the same team back in 2015, were published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.

Teaching machines to model evolution

The theory has taken the first steps into practical use inside an actual quantum computer. However, the IBM supercomputer used by the Basque researchers partly counts as a full quantum computer, so now the quantum computing hardware has to be scaled up.

The experiment could be the foundation stone for the creation of artificial life inside a quantum computer, and it could help understand the relation between the origin of life and quantum mechanics, which describes the universe in terms of interactions between subatomic particles.

Furthermore, the work of the Basque team could eventually lead to quantum computers that can autonomously model evolution without first being fed a human-designed algorithm, a ground-breaking method that would allow for experimental implementation achievable with all types of quantum platforms.

The next step is to scale the algorithm to allow for more individuals and expand their interaction and features attributed to them. There could be the possibility of adding gender features to the qubits to further explore social and sexual interactions at the quantum level.