Gamers help solve quantum physics problem where A.I. failed

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After an A.I. beat the human champion at Go, a game almost infinitely more complex than chess, some might feel like tossing the towel and letting our robot overlords take their rightful place. Not so fast! We’re still good for something. Pressed to find a solution for a complicated quantum physics problem that neither the researchers themselves nor an algorithm could properly solve, Danish physicists turned to the gaming community. They devised a game which mimicked the task at hand while also keeping it fun, and found some gamers came up with novel “outside the box” solutions which the algorithm couldn’t even touch. Points for humanity!

The problem the researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark were trying to solve deals with moving atoms around without wrecking the information they contain, which is essential to the functioning of a quantum computer. Using lasers, scientists can trap atoms in an optical lattice so you can use them to code qubits or quantum bits which can be 0 and 1 at the same time, unlike classical bits.

It’s when you move the atoms using so-called optical tweezers to perform operations that things start to crumble. Move them too slowly and the system loses its quantum state. Too fast and again you disrupt the system.

“There is a shortest process duration with perfect fidelity, denoted the quantum speed limit (QSL),” the authors write in their paper published in Nature, “which imposes a fundamental limit on the process duration.”

“We had atoms in arrays like eggs in an egg tray, and we wanted to pick up atoms and move them around,” said Jacob Sherson, a quantum physicist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “But atoms, they are not really balls; they are more like waves. So as soon as you pick them up, they start to slosh and have motion, and it’s very hard to move these things fast.”

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