A fault-tolerant quantum computation requires an efficient means to detect and correct errors that accumulate in encoded quantum information. In the context of machine learning, neural networks are a promising new approach to quantum error correction. Here we show that a recurrent neural network can be trained, using only experimentally accessible data, to detect errors in a widely used topological code, the surface code, with a performance above that of the established minimum-weight perfect matching (or blossom) decoder. The performance gain is achieved because the neural network decoder can detect correlations between bit-flip (X) and phase-flip (Z) errors. The machine learning algorithm adapts to the physical system, hence no noise model is needed. The long short-term memory layers of the recurrent neural network maintain their performance over a large number of quantum error correction cycles, making it a practical decoder for forthcoming experimental realizations of the surface code.
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