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Watch Stephen Hawking and Paul Rudd play quantum chess for Caltech

Watch Stephen Hawking and Paul Rudd play quantum chess for Caltech


Did I mention Keanu Reeves is narrating from the future?

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Can Paul Rudd figure out the intricacies of quantum mechanics fast enough to defeat Stephen Hawking and determine the future of humanity? That's the question posed by Anyone Can Quantum, a short film from Downloaded director Alex Winter made in collaboration with Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM).

The video premiered last night at the university's Beckman Auditorium, where the institute's One Entangled Evening kicked off a two-day celebration of the past, present, and future of quantum science. A version of Keanu Reeves living 700 years in the future contacts Rudd and asks him to weasel his way into Caltech's event, implying that the future of the world depends on it; Rudd can only gain entry by challenging Hawking to a board game grudge match, one live-tweeted by everyone from Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell to President Obama and Pope Francis. (Reeves and Winter co-starred in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which explains his participation; Winter makes a cameo late in the video to deliver one of the movie's famous line.)

It's like chess infused with quantum mechanics, and it's... pretty complicated

Quantum chess takes the board and pieces of standard chess and infuses them with the unpredictable nature of quantum mechanics. It's a game that has less to do with strategy than probability: if a piece can exist in two places at once, you're just rolling the dice when you try to take it. (To be more specific, pieces can exist in multiple states until they're forced to collapse into a single state by an action.) Versions of the game have been kicking around since at least 2010, when an undergraduate computer science student at Queen's University in Canada developed the game from a professor's ideas. Caltech's version was developed in collaboration with University of Southern California grad student Chris Cantwell, and it should be made available for public download soon.

Hawking's participation in Caltech's event is easy to understand — he's a pioneer and a legend in the world of theoretical physics — but Rudd's link to the institute is less evident. In last summer's Ant-Man, Rudd's hero Scott Lang had to jump in and out of the quantum realm to save the world. IQIM scientists were consulted when the movie's toe-dip into theoretical physics was being developed, and they helped to develop the script; in that light, Rudd's appearance in their promotional clip just looks like he's returning the favor. Does he solve the mystery of quantum entanglement with Future Keanu Reeves' help before Hawking crushes his puny brain? You'll have to watch to find out.