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This online game gave scientists new insight into quantum computing strategies

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Video game strategies may have given quantum researchers a new insight into a crucial problem facing quantum computing, according to a new article in Nature. The research focused on a game called Quantum Moves, which is designed to mimic neutral atoms in an optical lattice. Facing a time limit, players have to transport a quantity of sloshing quantum material into a designated zone without running into obstacles or spilling the material.

Like any good game, the optimal strategy isn’t immediately clear. Should you move slow and steady? Or move in small enough jumps that the material isn’t disturbed?

Quantum game

Gamers turn out to be better at figuring out that logic than even the most sophisticated simulations. For more than two years, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark have been monitoring how different people approach Quantum Moves. Not everyone got the knack of the game, but the best user strategies outperformed scientists’ best strategies for transporting the atoms. "The players found strategies that were fundamentally different from the ones we had expected from a trained quantum physics point of view," says physicist Jacob Friis Sherson, a co-author of the study. "[The game] allows the players to find strategies with just the right mixture of quantumness and classical behavior, which we researchers tend to overlook because we stare too long at the underlying equations."

The hope is that those same techniques can now be used to make real scientific progress on optical lattice-based quantum computers, which work along similar principles. In the game, the material sloshes for far longer than you might expect, and atoms also won’t consistently follow the cursor when two wells of material are pulled apart, mimicking two crucial quantum properties the team was hoping to manage.

It’s still too early to say if those new techniques will be useful in building an actual quantum computer. The proposed gate system is still extremely experimental, and it’s just one part of a very complicated puzzle. It will take much more elaborate testing to know if the new strategies work in an actual quantum computer, but the team is already moving onto a new experiment, planning a new version of Quantum Moves that goes into more detail on the quantum effects involved.