But if the respondents have access to particles that are entangled with each other — say, electrons that were orbiting the same atom but were subsequently separated — they can perform measurements — of, say, the spins of select electrons — that will enable them to coordinate their answers. That’s enough to thwart some interactive proofs.
The proof that Vidick and Ito analyzed is designed to make cheating difficult by disguising the questioner’s intent. To get a sense of how it works, imagine a graph that in some sense plots questions against answers, and suppose that the questioner is interested in two answers, which would be depicted on the graph as two points. Instead of asking the two questions of interest, however, the questioner asks at least three different questions. If the answers to those questions fall on a single line, then so do the answers that the questioner really cares about, which can now be calculated. If the answers don’t fall on a line, then at least one of the respondents is trying to cheat.
“That’s basically the idea, except that you do it in a much more high-dimensional way,” Vidick says. “Instead of having two dimensions, you have ‘N’ dimensions, and you think of all the questions and answers as being a small, N-dimensional cube.”
This type of proof turns out to be immune to quantum entanglement. But demonstrating that required Vidick and Ito to develop a new analytic framework for multiprover proofs.
According to the weird rules of quantum mechanics, until a measurement is performed on a quantum particle, the property being measured has no definite value; measuring snaps the particle into a definite state, but that state is drawn randomly from a probability distribution of possible states.
The problem is that, when particles are entangled, their probability distributions can’t be treated separately: They’re really part of a single big distribution. But any mathematical description of that distribution supposes a bird’s-eye perspective that no respondent in a multiprover proof would have. Finding a way to do justice to both the connection between the measurements and the separation of the measurers proved enormously difficult. “It took Tsuyoshi and me about a year and a half,” Vidick says. “But in fact, one could say I’ve been working on this since 2006. My very first paper was on exactly the same topic.”
Dorit Aharonov, a professor of computer science and engineering at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says that Vidick and Ito’s paper is the quantum analogue of an earlier paper on multiprover interactive proofs that “basically led to the PCP theorem, and the PCP theorem is no doubt the most important result of complexity in the past 20 years.” Similarly, she says, the new paper “could be an important step toward proving the quantum analogue of the PCP theorem, which is a major open question in quantum complexity theory.”
The paper could also have implications for physics, Aharonov adds. “This is a step toward deepening our understanding of the notion of entanglement, and of things that happen in quantum systems — correlations in quantum systems, and efficient descriptions of quantum systems, et cetera,” she says. “But it’s very indirect. This looks like an important step, but it’s a long journey.”