Fundamental limitations on optimization in variational quantum algorithms


Exploring quantum applications of near-term quantum devices is a rapidly growing field of quantum information science with both theoretical and practical interests. A leading paradigm to establish such near-term quantum applications is variational quantum algorithms (VQAs). These algorithms use a classical optimizer to train a parameterized quantum circuit to accomplish certain tasks, where the circuits are usually randomly initialized. In this work, we prove that for a broad class of such random circuits, the variation range of the cost function via adjusting any local quantum gate within the circuit vanishes exponentially in the number of qubits with a high probability. This result can unify the restrictions on gradient-based and gradient-free optimizations in a natural manner and reveal extra harsh constraints on the training landscapes of VQAs. Hence a fundamental limitation on the trainability of VQAs is unraveled, indicating the essential mechanism of the optimization hardness in the Hilbert space with exponential dimension. We further showcase the validity of our results with numerical simulations of representative VQAs. We believe that these results would deepen our understanding of the scalability of VQAs and shed light on the search for near-term quantum applications with advantages.