Properties and applications of the Kirkwood-Dirac distribution


The most famous quasi-probability distribution, the Wigner function, has played a pivotal role in the development of a continuous-variable quantum theory that has clear analogues of position and momentum. However, the Wigner function is ill-suited for much modern quantum-information research, which is focused on finite-dimensional systems and general observables. Instead, recent years have seen the Kirkwood-Dirac (KD) distribution come to the forefront as a powerful quasi-probability distribution for analysing quantum mechanics. The KD distribution allows tools from statistics and probability theory to be applied to problems in quantum-information processing. A notable difference to the Wigner function is that the KD distribution can represent a quantum state in terms of arbitrary observables. This paper reviews the KD distribution, in three parts. First, we present definitions and basic properties of the KD distribution and its generalisations. Second, we summarise the KD distribution’s extensive usage in the study or development of measurement disturbance; quantum metrology; weak values; direct measurements of quantum states; quantum thermodynamics; quantum scrambling and out-of-time-ordered correlators; and the foundations of quantum mechanics, including Leggett-Garg inequalities, the consistent-histories interpretation, and contextuality. We emphasise connections between operational quantum advantages and negative or non-real KD quasi-probabilities. Third, we delve into the KD distribution’s mathematical structure. We summarise the current knowledge regarding the geometry of KD-positive states (the states for which the KD distribution is a classical probability distribution), describe how to witness and quantify KD non-positivity, and outline relationships between KD non-positivity and observables’ incompatibility.