Puzzle Games Aren’t Just for Fun—Playing This One Actually Helps Program Quantum Computers

Trying to optimize the circuit.

Usually if you’re lost in a computer game at work, it means you’re slacking off. But the next time your boss yells at you for playing meQuanics on the clock, just tell her that you’re doing it for quantum computing research and the good of humanity.

MeQuanics is a puzzle game developed by Simon Devitt and others at the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science in Japan. The game, which you can try here, is only a proof of concept right now, but Devitt launched a Kickstarter on Thursday, spotted by New Scientist, to raise money for iOS and Android development. The idea is to design a game in which users naturally generate quantum computing case studies as they play.

Digital computers use “bits” of data encoded in binary as either zeros or ones. Quantum computing would use qubits, which could have superpositions of states“—basically expanded options for encoding data more efficiently. Quantum computers could churn through big data sets and compare these sets to reveal problem solutions that current computers can’t. “The laws of quantum mechanics and elementary particles allow much more extreme computation than could ever be found on a computer chip,” Seth Lloyd wrote on Slate in 2013.

The game presents quantum circuits as 3-D puzzles that players try to compress as much as possible to reduce their volume and the total number of qubits that would be needed for the circuit. Devitt writes that the game is an “attempt to ask the general public [to] develop the first compilation and optimisation techniques for large-scale quantum algorithms.” But this isn’t about turning everyone into quantum physicists. Devitt explains:

Unlike other popular games related to quantum physics, meQuanics is not an educational platform, it is a problem solving platform. We have abstracted away the very complicated theories related to quantum computing and topological quantum error correction and have reformulated the problem solving task into a simple 3-dimensional puzzle game. …

Other projects, like Foldit in 2012, have attempted to gamify and/or crowdsource scientific research. Most of these have been for biological work, so meQuanics is an early foray into using the approach for physics/computing projects. The team hopes to use the cases generated by meQuanics players to teach a machine-learning algorithm how to optimize quantum circuits at a faster rate.

MeQuanics may not be built for your personal enrichment, but there still could be something in it for you besides just entertainment. Devitt writes, “Gamers who directly contribute by finding awesomely resource efficient circuits will be included in scientific publications that present these new results.” Can’t hurt to try.