Neural networks have been recently proposed as variational wave functions for quantum many-body systems [G. Carleo and M. Troyer, Science 355, 602 (2017)]. In this work, we focus on a specific architecture, known as Restricted Boltzmann Machine (RBM), and analyse its accuracy for the spin-1/2 $J_1-J_2$ antiferromagnetic Heisenberg model in one spatial dimension. The ground state of this model has a non-trivial sign structure, especially for $J_2/J_1>0.5$, forcing us to work with complex-valued RBMs. Two variational Ans\"atze are discussed: one defined through a fully complex RBM, and one in which two different real-valued networks are used to approximate modulus and phase of the wave function. In both cases, translational invariance is imposed by considering linear combinations of RBMs, giving access also to the lowest-energy excitations at fixed momentum $k$. We perform a systematic study on small clusters to evaluate the accuracy of these wave functions in comparison to exact results, providing evidence for the supremacy of the fully complex RBM. Our calculations show that this kind of Ans\"atze is very flexible and describes both gapless and gapped ground states, also capturing the incommensurate spin-spin correlations and low-energy spectrum for $J_2/J_1>0.5$. The RBM results are also compared to the ones obtained with Gutzwiller-projected fermionic states, often employed to describe quantum spin models [F. Ferrari, A. Parola, S. Sorella and F. Becca, Phys. Rev. B 97, 235103 (2018)]. Contrary to the latter class of variational states, the fully-connected structure of RBMs hampers the transferability of the wave function from small to large clusters, implying an increase of the computational cost with the system size.
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