The Setup for Grover's Algorithm is the following:
Given an oracle $f_O^{\pm}$ representing a Query on a Database with total $N$ entries $N$ of which $k$ are matching. Grover's Algorithm is used to find with high probability a matching entry $x^*$.

In most papers researching Grover's Algorithm, the underlying assumption is that $k\lt\lt N$. Under the above assumption the optimal number of iterations is estimated to be $\frac{\pi}{4}\sqrt{\frac{N}{k}}$.

My questions is the following - What happens when Grover's Algorithm is applied to a database where this assumption is seriously violated? What's the optimal number of iterations in these cases? What happens in cases where $\frac{k}{N} \ge 0.5$?


1 Answer 1


A (wonderful) discussion of this problem can be found in Nielsen and Chuang (Sec. 6.1.4 Performance). The number of marked elements is labelled $M$ below (instead of $k$ in your case) and the emphasis is mine.

tl;dr if you know $M \geq N/2$ then just randomly pick an item: this has a success probability at least one-half and only requires one call to the oracle. If it is not known whether $M \geq N/2$, then, double the search space (which can be done by adding a single qubit since $N = 2^n$, where $n$ is the number of qubits) with the new $N$ elements such that none of them are solutions to the search -- as a consequence, the number of marked elements is now less than $N/2$.

Here's the quoted section:

If $M$ is known in advance: What happens when more than half the items are solutions to the search problem, that is, $M \geq N/2$? [...] the number of iterations needed by the search algorithm increases with $M$, for $M \geq N/2$. Intuitively, this is a silly property for a search algorithm to have: we expect that it should become easier to find a solution to the problem as the number of solutions increases. There are at least two ways around this problem. If $M$ is known in advance to be larger than $N/2$ then we can just randomly pick an item from the search space, and then check that it is a solution using the oracle. This approach has a success probability at least one-half, and only requires one consultation with the oracle. It has the disadvantage that we may not know the number of solutions $M$ in advance.

In the case where it isn’t known whether $M \geq N/2$, another approach can be used. [...] The idea is to double the number of elements in the search space by adding $N$ extra items to the search space, none of which are solutions. As a consequence, less than half the items in the new search space are solutions. This is effected by adding a single qubit $|q \rangle$ to the search index, doubling the number of items to be searched to $2N$.

  • $\begingroup$ Adding another qubit - wouldn't that result in doubling of M as well? Also our oracle works on logN qubits. How would that work with an extra qubit? $\endgroup$
    – vasjain
    Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ No, please see the relevant section in the book (or the quote above). We double the search space, yes, but none of the (newly added) $N$ elements are solutions -- therefore, $M$ remains the same. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 5, 2020 at 23:51

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