|Written by Lucy Black
|Sunday, 29 November 2015
Can you learn about quantum mechanics, and quantum computing in particular, simply by playing a game?
To save you any time worrying about the question - no, you cannot.
However, there are some interesting problems revealed by this attempt to make light of a very deep subject.
Quantum Cats has been produced by the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo - the people who brought you WatFor and Maple to name just two.
It is a game in the style of Angry Birds that lets you fire cats at piles of things to release kittens that have disappeared. There are a number of different locations where you can throw the cats but the key element is the type of cat you throw.
There are four of them:
Classy cat is a Newtonian projectile and follows the usual parabolic paths from being fired to impact. Nothing new to see here, but it serves to get the game started.
The next three types of cat are supposed to represent new behaviors introduced by quantum mechanics.
Schro - short for Schrodinger I suppose, is a cat that can be in multiple states. You fire what looks like multiple copies of him which take different paths and then select which one you want to realize.
Digger is a quantum tunnelling cat. He simply shows up on the other side of barriers that Classy cat would bounce off.
Finally there is Fuzzy cat which is supposed to be a representation of the Heisenberg uncertainly principle and you can't know what he is going to hit. He simply hits something close to his final position.
The game is programmed for iOS, Android and is soon to be available for Blackberry - one of the Institute's funding sources is Blackberry founders, Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis. It uses Unity as its game engine, runs a little slow and crashes now and again. Otherwise is it fairly playable and fun in an Angry Birds clone sort of way.
But does it teach you anything about quantum mechanics?
It most certainly doesn't teach you anything about quantum computers but this is forgivable. As to teaching you quantum mechanics, my verdict would be "not really". It gets some of the jargon across and introduces the fact that there is uncertainty in measurement, superposition of states and quantum tunnelling - but only at the most superficial level.
As a physicist I know the math behind each one of these concepts and how they arise out of the principles of quantum mechanics. I'm not at all sure that I could explain them in any useful way without the math. This isn't as true of other big ideas in physics. I think I could explain, and lots of people try, the ideas of relativity with talk of clocks, light beams and moving platforms. I think that even without the math the ideas can be communicated at a practically useful level.
When it comes to quantum mechanics I'm not sure even how to start without gross misrepresentation. The problem is that for relativity you can picture what is happening but for quantum mechanics there are no adequate pictures. To quote Paul Dirac, or possibly Richard Feynman, perhaps all we can do is "Shut up and calculate!"
Have fun with Quantum Cats. but don't expect to learn even a flavor of quantum mechanics or quantum computing. It isn't the fault of the game or the game designers; it is a property of the theory and this doesn't bode well for quantum computing.
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|Last Updated ( Sunday, 29 November 2015 )