The game Quantum Moves has been played half a million times and the players have proved to be even better than computers at solving tasks during the game. (Illustration: ScienceAtHome)

Gamers solve problems faster than a computer

Humans routinely find better solutions to difficult quantum mechanical problems than computers, shows new research.

Computers might be able to beat us at chess but we are still better at recognising patterns, and apparently, we are also better at finding solutions to quantum mechanical problems.

In an article published in Nature, scientists explain how gamers can beat computers, when it comes to figuring out how to move atoms quickly.

”We were very surprised to find that gamers were able to come up with results on the other side of what we thought was the quantum speed limit-- that is, the maximum speed at which the computer can operate,” says Jacob Sherson, associate professor and leader of Centre for Community Driven Research (CODER), Aarhus University, Denmark.

The scientists can use this new knowledge to help design quantum computers.

The basic unit of information in computing is a bit, which has a value of either '0' or '1'.

In quantum computing, the basic unit of information is the quantum bit (sometimes qubit or qbit).

A quantum bit can simultaneously have a value of ‘0’ or ‘1’ at any one time.

Quantum bits provide many new possibilities for calculations and a quantum computer will be able to solve certain tasks much faster than a normal computer.

Watch the video at the bottom of the article to learn more about how gamers are helping scientists develop a quantum computer.

Quantum speed limit holds back the quantum computer

In the new study, scientists simulated a quantum computer with quantum bits that the gamers could manipulate. But this is not a straightforward task, says Sherson.

”The challenge is that the individual quantum bits connect with the surroundings and then the quantum information flows out of them. We have to make calculations before the information is lost and that is a big challenge,” he says.

The physicists know that there is a fundamental limit to how quickly things can happen at quantum level as set out by the laws of quantum mechanics. But it is impossible to calculate this quantum speed limit for complex systems.

To move an atom in a quantum computer is comparable to moving a glass of water, which is full to the brim. It is easy if you take it nice and slow, but if you run, the water will slosh around the glass and spill. The challenge is finding the quickest way to move the water without spilling it. And that, is what the gamers have helped to solve.

10,000 players help beat the quantum limit

The gamers helped Sherson and his colleagues to calculate the quantum limit. Computers simulated a process, such as moving an atom, multiple times to see how quickly they could finish the task.

Sherson and his colleagues thought they knew approximately where the limit would be for their quantum computer, but they quickly revised this estimate after almost 10,000 gamers played the game Quantum Moves half a million times.

It turned out that some of the players were able to finish one part of the game much quicker than the computer. And the computer tried it 100 million times.

”The computer was unable to find any solutions in under 0.26 seconds,” says Sherson.

“We would normally trust that the computer worked near the quantum speed limit. So it’s very exciting, that the gamers were able to come up with solutions on the other side of that limit,” says Sherson.

Computers can learn from humans

The scientists assumption, that the computer would find the limit turned out to be wrong. Some of the players were intuitively better at finding solutions to the complex problem.

Based on the results of the repeated games, the scientists were able to improve the computer algorithm and essentially taught the computer to use the players' methods. This led to even better results and the quantum speed limit increased again.

The result is good news for the development of quantum computers. It proves that it is possible to perform processes more quickly and efficiently than scientists previously thought. 


Video: Aarhus University



Read the Danish version of this story on

Translated by: Stephanie Lammers-Clark

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