New research carried out by scientists from the University of the Basque Country in Spain suggests that the origin of life could be explained in part by quantum mechanics, a fundamental theory in physics and the framework that governs the deeply counter-intuitive and mathematical world of atoms and sub-atomic particles.
With the aid of a newly created quantum algorithm, the scientists were able to show that quantum computers can indeed simulate nature at the smallest scales of energy levels and doing so by carrying out many of the behaviors that turned non living matter into something that can live, thrive and breed.
Using an IBM QX4 quantum computer, the researchers mimicked quantum living units or “individuals” which were expressed using two qubits (the quantum analog of the classic computer bit and the basic building blocks of quantum physics): one to represent the genotype, or the genetic code transmitted from generation to generation, and one to represent the phenotype, the observable physical properties of an organism.
Linked through entanglement, these units were then programmed to emulate the basic processes of human life, such as reproduce, evolve and die.
The surprising thing came when the “individuals”, after coming into contact with each other, began incorporating a third element that copied the action of others.
“The goal of the proposed model is to reproduce the characteristic processes of Darwinian evolution, adapted to the language of quantum algorithms and quantum computing,” write the researchers, noting that the new model not only “connects two previously unrelated areas as are artificial life and quantum computing,” but also proves that “microscopic quantum systems can efficiently encode quantum features and biological behaviors, usually associated with living systems and natural selection.”
It should be noted that while the algorithm is still an early proof-of-concept prototype – keep in mind, the origin of living systems remains one of the great mysteries of science – its impact could be very significant when it comes to the relationship between quantum mechanics and the behaviors attributed uniquely to living beings.
The experimental implementation of the model for quantum artificial life also fits in with research from the same team published in February 2017, where the processes they chose to imitate by means of theoretical quantum model were natural selection, memory and intelligence.
Now thanks to the quantum individuals that theory driven by an adaptation effort along the lines of a quantum Darwinian evolution has taken the first steps into practical use inside an actual quantum computer.
The paper describing the life-encoding algorithm was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.