A classical foreshadow of John Preskill’s Bell Prize


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Editor’s Note: This post was co-authored by Hsin-Yuan Huang (Robert) and Richard Kueng.

John Preskill, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, has been named the 2024 John Stewart Bell Prize recipient. The prize honors John’s contributions in “the developments at the interface of efficient learning and processing of quantum information in quantum computation, and following upon long standing intellectual leadership in near-term quantum computing.” The committee cited John’s seminal work defining the concept of the NISQ (noisy intermediate-scale quantum) era, our joint work “Predicting Many Properties of a Quantum System from Very Few Measurements” proposing the classical shadow formalism, along with subsequent research that builds on classical shadows to develop new machine learning algorithms for processing information in the quantum world.

We are truly honored that our joint work on classical shadows played a role in John winning this prize. But as the citation implies, this is also a much-deserved “lifetime achievement” award. For the past two and a half decades, first at IQI and now at IQIM, John has cultivated a wonderful, world-class research environment at Caltech that celebrates intellectual freedom, while fostering collaborations between diverse groups of physicists, computer scientists, chemists, and mathematicians. John has said that his job is to shield young researchers from bureaucratic issues, teaching duties and the like, so that we can focus on what we love doing best. This extraordinary generosity of spirit has been responsible for seeding the world with some of the bests minds in the field of quantum information science and technology.

A cartoon depiction of John Preskill (Middle), Hsin-Yuan Huang (Left), and Richard Kueng (Right). [Credit: Chi-Yun Cheng]

It is in this environment that the two of us (Robert and Richard) met and first developed the rudimentary form of classical shadows — inspired by Scott Aaronson’s idea of shadow tomography. While the initial form of classical shadows is mathematically appealing and was appreciated by the theorists (it was a short plenary talk at the premier quantum information theory conference), it was deemed too abstract to be of practical use. As a result, when we submitted the initial version of classical shadows for publication, the paper was rejected. John not only recognized the conceptual beauty of our initial idea, but also pointed us towards a direction that blossomed into the classical shadows we know today. Applications range from enabling scientists to more efficiently understand engineered quantum devices, speeding up various near-term quantum algorithms, to teaching machines to learn and predict the behavior of quantum systems.

Congratulations John! Thank you for bringing this community together to do extraordinarily fun research and for guiding us throughout the journey.