Discovering novel algorithms with AlphaTensor

In our paper, published today in Nature, we introduce AlphaTensor, the first artificial intelligence (AI) system for discovering novel, efficient, and provably correct algorithms for fundamental tasks such as matrix multiplication. This sheds light on a 50-year-old open question in mathematics about finding the fastest way to multiply two matrices.

In our paper, we explored how modern AI techniques could advance the automatic discovery of new matrix multiplication algorithms. Building on the progress of human intuition, AlphaTensor discovered algorithms that are more efficient than the state of the art for many matrix sizes. Our AI-designed algorithms outperform human-designed ones, which is a major step forward in the field of algorithmic discovery.

First, we converted the problem of finding efficient algorithms for matrix multiplication into a single-player game. In this game, the board is a three-dimensional tensor (array of numbers), capturing how far from correct the current algorithm is. Through a set of allowed moves, corresponding to algorithm instructions, the player attempts to modify the tensor and zero out its entries. When the player manages to do so, this results in a provably correct matrix multiplication algorithm for any pair of matrices, and its efficiency is captured by the number of steps taken to zero out the tensor.

We then trained an AlphaTensor agent using reinforcement learning to play the game, starting without any knowledge about existing matrix multiplication algorithms. Through learning, AlphaTensor gradually improves over time, re-discovering historical fast matrix multiplication algorithms such as Strassen’s, eventually surpassing the realm of human intuition and discovering algorithms faster than previously known.