Citizen Science

Humans have been shown to outperform computers when it comes to some tasks in quantum physics, and it’s thanks to video games.

In terms of looking at how the universe works at the most fundamental levels, quantum physics presents the soundest, albeit perhaps the most perplexing, explanation. This is because quantum physics posits that particles can exist in a state of superposition, which means that it can be in two places at once. A particle can spin both clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time.

Scientists are able to use the concept of superposition to create quantum computers, where the data representation is not limited to just a binary 0 or 1, but can be both 0 and 1 at the same time. This is unit is called a qubit. This allows a quantum computer to do two calculations where traditional computers only do one, a property that enables quantum computers to solve exponentially more complex problems.

But what hinders this progress is how fast simple quantum computers can run these operations, called the quantum speed limit. This speed limit is what quantum physicist Jacob Sherson of Aarhus University in Denmark wants to redefine with the help of video game players.

Quantum Gaming

Enter Quantum Moves, an online game platform developed by Sherson and his team that's loaded with games featuring mechanics that represent quantum computer operations. The platform has already seen 10,000 different gamers play these games approximately 500,000 times.

This is the first time that scientists have used “gamification” in studying quantum physics. One game, called BringHomeWater, has players collect water-bucket-carrying atoms using focused laser beams. This is to simulate how a quantum computer processes atoms for entanglement. The results of the games showed that not only were players able to perform the operation as quickly as computers, but they were even able to beat the quantum speed limit.

“It was a huge shock,” said Sherson. “We thought anything better couldn’t be done.”

"Being able to successful gamify problems in quantum physics is a novel and potentially very powerful way to channel human brainpower to advance research, and could have incredible implications for the development of quantum technologies such as quantum computers," says Sabrina Maniscalco, a quantum physicist at the University of Turku, Finland.

The team has published their findings in the journal Nature.

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