Since the 80s we know how to build optical neural networks that simulate the Hopfield model, spin-glasses, and related. New developments in optical technology and light control in random media clearly demonstrate the “optical advantage,” even while limiting to the good old classical physics.
Many developments in science and engineering depend on tackling complex optimizations on large scales. The challenge motivates an intense search for specific computing hardware that takes advantage of quantum features, stochastic elements, nonlinear dissipative dynamics, in-memory operations, or photonics. A paradigmatic optimization problem is finding low-energy states in classical spin systems with fully-random interactions. To date, no alternative computing platform can address such spin-glass problems on a large scale. Here we propose and realize an optical scalable spin-glass simulator based on spatial light modulation and multiple light scattering. By tailoring optical transmission through a disordered medium, we optically accelerate the computation of the ground state of large spin networks with all-to-all random couplings. Scaling of the operation time with the problem size demonstrates an optical advantage over conventional computing. Our results provide a general route towards large-scale computing that exploits speed, parallelism, and coherence of light.
Combinatorial optimization problems are crucial for widespread applications but remain difficult to solve on a large scale with conventional hardware. Novel optical platforms, known as coherent or photonic Ising machines, are attracting considerable attention as accelerators on optimization tasks formulable as Ising models. Annealing is a well-known technique based on adiabatic evolution for finding optimal solutions in classical and quantum systems made by atoms, electrons, or photons. Although various Ising machines employ annealing in some form, adiabatic computing on optical settings has been only partially investigated. Here, we realize the adiabatic evolution of frustrated Ising models with 100 spins programmed by spatial light modulation. We use holographic and optical control to change the spin couplings adiabatically, and exploit experimental noise to explore the energy landscape. Annealing enhances the convergence to the Ising ground state and allows to find the problem solution with probability close to unity. Our results demonstrate a photonic scheme for combinatorial optimization in analogy with adiabatic quantum algorithms and enforced by optical vector-matrix multiplications and scalable photonic technology.
In 1970 an article by Martin Gardner appeared in Scientific American disclosing for the first time a “game” invented by John H. Conway: a matrix of ones and zeros changes with time according to simple rules inspired by biology. Cells (ones) survive or die because of overpopulation, or starvation. The simple rules surprisingly generate a variety of binary animals, named gliders, blocks, and spaceships, among others. By pen and paper, Conway demonstrated that complex dynamics spontaneously emerge in the game. Ultimately, Conway’s Game of Life turned out to be a universal Turing machine, and it is the most famous example of Cellular Automaton.
I was deeply inspired by the possibility of generating complexity with simple rules, like many others before me. In more than 50 years, Conway’s Game of Life inspired generations of scientists. “Life” is at the inner core of ideas that pervade nowadays machine learning, evolutionary biology, quantum computing, and many other fields. It also connects to the work of Wolfram and the development of Mathematica.
I was intrigued by the interaction between light and complexity and I wanted to combine the Game of Life with electromagnetic fields. I report below my original post on the topic (dating back to 2008). The article was rejected by many journals and finally published in a book dedicated to the 50 years of the GOL ( Game of Life Cellular Automata, Springer 2010).
The Enlightened Game of Life (EGOL)
The link between light and the development of complex behavior is as subtle as evident. Examples include the moonlight triggered mass spawning of hard corals in the Great Barrier, or the light-switch hypothesis in evolutionary biology, which ascribes the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity to the development of vision. Electromagnetic (EM) radiation drastically alters complex systems, from physics (e.g., climate changes) to biology (e.g., structural colors or bioluminescence). So far the emphasis has been given to bio-physical, or digital, models of the evolution of the eye with the aim of understanding the environmental influence on highly specialized organs. In this manuscript, we consider the way the appearance of photosensitivity affects the dynamics, the emergent properties and the self-organization of a community of interacting agents, specifically, of cellular automata (CA).
Quick and dirty implementation of the EGOL in a Python Notebook
Ising machines are novel computing devices for the energy minimization of Ising models. These combinatorial optimization problems are of paramount importance for science and technology, but remain difficult to tackle on large scale by conventional electronics. Recently, various photonics-based Ising machines demonstrated ultra-fast computing of Ising ground state by data processing through multiple temporal or spatial optical channels. Experimental noise acts as a detrimental effect in many of these devices. On the contrary, we here demonstrate that an optimal noise level enhances the performance of spatial-photonic Ising machines on frustrated spin problems. By controlling the error rate at the detection, we introduce a noisy-feedback mechanism in an Ising machine based on spatial light modulation. We investigate the device performance on systems with hundreds of individually-addressable spins with all-to-all couplings and we found an increased success probability at a specific noise level. The optimal noise amplitude depends on graph properties and size, thus indicating an additional tunable parameter helpful in exploring complex energy landscapes and in avoiding trapping into local minima. The result points out noise as a resource for optical computing. This concept, which also holds in different nanophotonic neural networks, may be crucial in developing novel hardware with optics-enabled parallel architecture for large-scale optimizations.