|Is a universal quantum computer sufficient to efficiently simulate an arbitrary physical system?|
While a classical three-bit state and a quantum three-qubit state are both eight-dimensional vectors, they are manipulated quite differently for classical or quantum computation. For computing in either case, the system must be initialized, for example into the all-zeros string, corresponding to the vector (1,0,0,0,0,0,0,0). In classical randomized computation, the system evolves according to the application of stochastic matrices, which preserve that the probabilities add up to one (i.e., preserve the L1 norm). In quantum computation, on the other hand, allowed operations are unitary matrices, which are effectively rotations (they preserve that the sum of the squares add up to one, the Euclidean or L2 norm). (Exactly what unitaries can be applied depend on the physics of the quantum device.) Consequently, since rotations can be undone by rotating backward, quantum computations are reversible. (Technically, quantum operations can be probabilistic combinations of unitaries, so quantum computation really does generalize classical computation. See quantum circuit for a more precise formulation.)
Finally, upon termination of the algorithm, the result needs to be read off. In the case of a classical computer, we sample from the probability distribution on the three-bit register to obtain one definite three-bit string, say 000. Quantum mechanically, we measure the three-qubit state, which is equivalent to collapsing the quantum state down to a classical distribution (with the coefficients in the classical state being the squared magnitudes of the coefficients for the quantum state, as described above), followed by sampling from that distribution. Note that this destroys the original quantum state. Many algorithms will only give the correct answer with a certain probability. However, by repeatedly initializing, running and measuring the quantum computer, the probability of getting the correct answer can be increased.
For more details on the sequences of operations used for various quantum algorithms, see universal quantum computer, Shor's algorithm, Grover's algorithm, Deutsch-Jozsa algorithm, amplitude amplification, quantum Fourier transform, quantum gate, quantum adiabatic algorithm and quantum error correction.
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