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Unconventional computing platforms and nature-inspired methods for solving hard optimisation problems



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The search for novel hardware beyond the traditional von Neumann architecture has given rise to a modern area of unconventional computing requiring the efforts of mathematicians, physicists and engineers. Many analogue physical systems, including networks of nonlinear oscillators, lasers, condensates, and superconducting qubits, are proposed and realised to address challenging computational problems from various areas of social and physical sciences and technology. Understanding the underlying physical process by which the system finds the solutions to such problems often leads to new optimisation algorithms. This thesis focuses on studying gain-dissipative systems and nature-inspired algorithms that form a hybrid architecture that may soon rival classical hardware.

Chapter 1 lays the necessary foundation and explains various interdisciplinary terms that are used throughout the dissertation. In particular, connections between the optimisation problems and spin Hamiltonians are established, their computational complexity classes are explained, and the most prominent physical platforms for spin Hamiltonian implementation are reviewed.

Chapter 2 demonstrates a large variety of behaviours encapsulated in networks of polariton condensates, which are a vivid example of a gain-dissipative system we use throughout the thesis. We explain how the variations of experimentally tunable parameters allow the networks of polariton condensates to represent different oscillator models. We derive analytic expressions for the interactions between two spatially separated polariton condensates and show various synchronisation regimes for periodic chains of condensates. An odd number of condensates at the vertices of a regular polygon leads to a spontaneous formation of a giant multiply-quantised vortex at the centre of a polygon. Numerical simulations of all studied configurations of polariton condensates are performed with a mean-field approach with some theoretically proposed physical phenomena supported by the relevant experiments.

Chapter 3 examines the potential of polariton graphs to find the low-energy minima of the spin Hamiltonians. By associating a spin with a condensate phase, the minima of the XY model are achieved for simple configurations of spatially-interacting polariton condensates. We argue that such implementation of gain-dissipative simulators limits their applicability to the classes of easily solvable problems since the parameters of a particular Hamiltonian depend on the node occupancies that are not known a priori. To overcome this difficulty, we propose to adjust pumping intensities and coupling strengths dynamically. We further theoretically suggest how the discrete Ising and n-state planar Potts models with or without external fields can be simulated using gain-dissipative platforms. The underlying operational principle originates from a combination of resonant and non-resonant pumping. Spatial anisotropy of pump and dissipation profiles enables an effective control of the sign and intensity of the coupling strength between any two neighbouring sites, which we demonstrate with a two dimensional square lattice of polariton condensates. For an accurate minimisation of discrete and continuous spin Hamiltonians, we propose a fully controllable polaritonic XY-Ising machine based on a network of geometrically isolated polariton condensates.

In Chapter 4, we look at classical computing rivals and study nature-inspired methods for optimising spin Hamiltonians. Based on the operational principles of gain-dissipative machines, we develop a novel class of gain-dissipative algorithms for the optimisation of discrete and continuous problems and show its performance in comparison with traditional optimisation techniques. Besides looking at traditional heuristic methods for Ising minimisation, such as the Hopfield-Tank neural networks and parallel tempering, we consider a recent physics-inspired algorithm, namely chaotic amplitude control, and exact commercial solver, Gurobi. For a proper evaluation of physical simulators, we further discuss the importance of detecting easy instances of hard combinatorial optimisation problems. The Ising model for certain interaction matrices, that are commonly used for evaluating the performance of unconventional computing machines and assumed to be exponentially hard, is shown to be solvable in polynomial time including the Mobius ladder graphs and Mattis spin glasses.

In Chapter 5 we discuss possible future applications of unconventional computing platforms including emulation of search algorithms such as PageRank, realisation of a proof-of-work protocol for blockchain technology, and reservoir computing.





Berloff, Natalia


Unconventional Computing, Gain-dissipative systems, Polaritons, Exciton-Polaritons, Nature-inspired optimisation, Physics-inspired algorithms, Ising model, XY model, University of Cambridge, PhD Thesis


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge