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A.I. Surprisingly Loses to Gamers at … Quantum Mechanics?

Video games are the key to our salvation from the machines.


quantum moves title screen

AI has come a long way in recent years, but it’s still pretty pretty far away from any Terminator scenarios, no matter how many prominent scientific minds are concerned about those eventual implications. We may have even lost to the machines at the ancient, complicated game of Go, but it turns out humans have an unlikely knack for quantum mechanics.

Complicated physics isn’t exactly where I’d expect humans to outdo machines, but that’s exactly what happened in some recent testing by researchers at Denmark’s Aarhus University. Of course, to get humans to excel, they first had to turn their research into a game. Kids these days and their video games. Anyway, the researchers were trying to discern the best way to move around an arrangement of atoms to transmit information without disrupting the system and losing it (key for, say, quantum computing) by using “optical tweezers”—a form of light.

However, there’s an optimal speed to push the atoms around—too slow or too fast won’t do—and that’s something they’re still working to refine. So, they made a game (actually available for mobile download on Android and iOS or on desktop) called Quantum Moves, where the player has to move liquid along a flexible line and get as much as possible to form a pool at a desired location. It sounds simple, but the gameplay is a close enough simulation to the actual use of the optical tweezers that players’ tactics could be used to guide the researchers’ optimization software for the actual quantum mechanical problem.

As they explain on the game’s site, “Our engines take this information and translate it to the way a laser beam is used to pick up and move around an atom in the lab. Different challenges in Quantum Moves correspond to different operations on the qubit strings. Once we have a whole toolbox of operations, we are ready to turn on the 300-qubit quantum computer and start addressing the hugely important and impactful task of working on problems that have been ‘impossible’ to solve for the best present-day supercomputers.”

With gamers’ data included, the process of prodding the atoms around got about 30% faster over previous AI-based solutions without any negative side effects. You can read about their work in Nature and expect more science games on the way with the success of Quantum Moves. Way to go, humanity. Truly, there is nothing we cannot accomplish as long as someone can make a video game out of it. Now to relax and spend the rest of the evening “advancing science.”

(via ArsTechnica, image via Quantum Moves)

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Dan is a video game modding hobbyist and secret ninja who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa Brown, and his dog, Liz Lemon, both of whom are the best.