# TensorFlow Data Layer.

In this post I will update the progress in creating a QuTiP data type that is backed by TensorFlow’s Tensors. There are three main motivations to have QuTiP work with TensorFlow’s Tensors:

• Seamless integration between TensorFlow and QuTiP. There is a research field that aims to harness machine learning advances in the context of quantum systems(see this[^1] for an example). I believe qutip-tensorflow will be a very useful tool in this context.
• Operate with a GPU. Even people not familiar with TensorFlow will benefit from qutip-tensorflow as it will allow users to operate with the GPU. Take a look at may previous posts here and here for potential benefits and challenges in this regard. There is also another GSoC project, qutip-cupy that will also provide this functionality.
• Auto differentiation. This will be the main topic of this blog post.

In this post we will discuss what auto differentiation is and why it is such and interesting feature to make it work with QuTiP.

## Auto differentiation.

There are commonly three approaches that one can use to differentiate a function. The first one consists on obtaining an analytical expression using the derivatives rules we learn in high school, together with the chain rules. However, this approach becomes less reliable when we deal with long and complicated multivariate functions, as it is easier for humans to make an error when calculating the derivative of a function. Furthermore, this is not an flexible method as we have to manually obtain the derivative of each new function.

An alternative numeric approach consists on using the finite difference methods. An example of these is the forward difference where the derivative of a funtion $f(x)$ is approximated by: $$\frac{df(x)}{dx} = \frac{f(x+h) - f(x)}{h}$$ for $h$ an small number. The smaller it is, the more precise this approximation is expected to be. Although this method could be applied to arbitrary functions, it does not provide an exact value of the derivative. Furthermore, it suffers from numerical rounding errors as it is necessary to subtract two very similar floating point values.

The third method is auto differentiation. This method is an exact method that makes use of the fact that functions in computation are composed of simpler operations (such us exponentiation or multiplication) for which an exact derivative is known. This method first creates a graph with the operations that compose a function and then uses the chain rule to obtain with back propagation the derivative of a function. Hence, this method is both exact, and extensible as it can be applied to arbitrary functions.

Obtaining the exact derivative of a function is key in minimization problems. These are extensively used in TensorFlow in order to train models, where the minimized function is the cost function. However, QuTiP could also potentially benefit from auto differentiation. For example, QuTiP 4 has the module Quantum Optimal Control that minimizes a cost function to achieve the desired dynamics with a limited control of a system.

## Support for TensorFlow in QuTiP - progress.

To support auto differentiation in qutip-tensorflow we need to give support to the two main classes of TensorFlow: tensorflow.Tensor and tensorflow.Variable. We do this by creating a Data class in QuTiP, TfTensor, that at this moment wraps a Tensor. However, in the future we plan TfTensor to wrap both Tensor and Variable.

QuTiP uses an instance of Data to represent a quantum object, Qobj. It also uses a dispatcher system to support different types of data. This dispatcher system is quite flexible and it is used to define how different Data instances operate. For instance, there may be cases where you want to operate with two Qobjthat are backed with different data types. An example of this is the matrix multiplication of a Hamiltonian (usually represented with an sparse matrix) times a ket (usually represented with a dense matrix). The dispatcher allows to specify specialisations that handle this operation with a particular input data types, such as a dense matrix times a sparse matrix or a dense matrix times a dense matrix.

As far as qutip-tensorflow is concerned, the dispatcher system allows us to conveniently define QuTiP’s operations using TensorFlow’s Tensor. As an example of how this works, we consider the matrix multiplication of two TfTensor which store a Tensor in the _tf attribute.

def matmul_tftensor(left, right, scale=1, out=None):
"""
Perform the operation
out := scale * (left @ right) + out
where left, right and out are matrices.  scale is a complex scalar,
defaulting to 1. If out not given is assumed to be 0. left and right
are instances of TfTensor.
"""
result = tensorflow.matmul(scale * left._tf, right._tf)

if out is None:
return qutip_tensorflow.data.TfTensor(result)
else:
out._tf = result + out._tf


we then add this specialisation to the dispatcher:

qutip.data.matmul.add_specialisations([(TfTensor, TfTensor, TfTensor, matmul_tftensor)])


With this, Qobj will now support matrix multiplication between two TfTensor that wraps a tensorflow.Tensor.

Currently only addition and matrix multiplication have been added as specialisations but, the rest are ready to be included (I just need to create a PR).

## Auto differentiation in QuTiP - challenges.

To seamlessly support auto differentiation in qutip-tensorflow, we first need to overcome a number of challenges:

• We need to allow tensorflow.GradientTape to accept a Qobj. I plan to do this by providing a qutip_tensorflow.GradientTape that wraps TensorFlow’s version so that the gradient (and similar) methods accept as input a Qobj.

• We also want to allow operations of the form:

a = tensorflow.Variable(1+1j)  # Complex _scalar_ variable.
qobj = qutip.Qobj(tensor)  # Qobj represented with a tensorflow.Tensor
a*qobj


At this moment this operation is not supported in QuTiP (see this issue). One of my next tasks will be to add this functionality to QuTiP in a sensible way.

• Allow qutip.core.operators functions to accept Variable as input. An example of this is the function qutip.squeezing(a1, a2, z) where z is a complex scalar. We would like to have this functions to accept arbitrary scalar-like objects such as tensorflow.Variable. This requires the previous point to work but there are a few other things to consider. For instance, one of the operations inside qutip.squeezing is np.conj(z) which will not work if z is a tensorflow.Variable. One approach could be to substitute np in qutip.code.operators with tensorflow.experimental.numpy when importing qutip-tensorflow. However, this seems prone to errors so I am still thinking for an alternative way. 