This Game Teaches You How to Build a Quantum Computer

Learning about how quantum computers work doesn’t have to be boring.

Daniel Oberhaus

Daniel Oberhaus

Image: The Quantum Game

2017 has been a great year for quantum computing. Researchers created a time crystal that will one day serve as a quantum computer’s internal clock, managed to predict the future of a quantum system, put the first node of the quantum internet in space, made an unprecedented 53 qubit quantum simulator, and made a blueprint for the first large scale quantum computer.

This is all great, but how do the devices at the core of these discoveries actually work? In many cases, quantum computers are highly complex, esoteric machines that are a mess of lasers, mirrors, vacuum chambers, and particle beams that often look something like this:

An IBM Quantum computer. Image: IBM

It’s stressful just looking at that thing, but the Polish programmer Piotr Migdal is here to help. Last year, Migdal released a beta version of The Quantum Game, a creative approach to teaching players about the complexities of making a quantum computer.

Inspired by other machine-building games like The Incredible Machine and Chromatron, The Quantum Game is simple enough to play, yet challenging enough to be engaging.

Players are presented with a grid where they can arrange components like beam splitters, photon sources, vacuum chambers, mirrors and more to create a virtual quantum computer. There are dozens of ‘levels’ that require players to arrange components so that the quantum device is able to detect photons under various conditions.

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According to the game’s website, the game relies on a “real simulation of quantum mechanics.” This means players can learn a lot about how the quantum physics that underlies real quantum computers works by actually recreating famous quantum experiments like the Elitzur-Vaidman bomb-tester, a quantum thought experiment that has been proven to allow researchers to verify that a bomb is functional without detonating it.

Within the next few weeks, Google is expected to unveil a quantum computer that is capable of performing calculations that are beyond the reach of even the most advanced classical supercomputers, a feat known as “quantum supremacy.” While you won’t be able to replicate that experiment in ‘The Quantum Game,’ at least you’ll have a better idea of how it actually works.