Google thinks it can get kids hooked on the wacky world of quantum physics early on by using the popular game Minecraft. The Internet giant has unveiled a game mod designed to help millions of Minecraft players become familiar with the strangeness of quantum physics rules that appear to defy reality.
The new game mod, called qCraft, allows Minecraft players to mess around with quantum rules such as superposition, entanglement, and observational dependency. These tricks would allow players to create quantum teleporters, make entangled Minecraft blocks that can both be affected simultaneously by changing the properties of just one block, and build castle drawbridges that vanish when seen from different perspectives.
"Of course, qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, but it’s a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples," said the Google Quantum Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab team in a blog post.
The game Minecraft has become a breakout success as an indie game with more than 12 million sales for the game's PC version and 33 million total sales across the PC, XBox and mobile versions of the game. The game's blocky world-building design—playable by kids and adults of practically all ages—makes it seemingly ideal as an intersection between virtual education and virtual playground.
Minecraft players can download the qCraft mod for Windows or Mac as part of several popular mod bundles, or read up on the craziness of quantum mechanics at the qCraft wiki. The mod is also compatible with the officially-supported MinecraftEdu version of the game intended for use in classrooms.
Google teamed up with MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter to build the game mod. Together, they decided to build a mod that represented quantum rules through loose analogies rather than go for high-level authenticity.
"The plan for the future is to upload a variety of posts and educational resources on qcraft.org discussing the science behind the high-level concepts presented within the game, at a level that middle-schoolers can appreciate," said Spyridon Michalakis, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, in a blog post.
The qCraft mod comes as part of Google's broader interest in quantum computing—the field that aims to harness quantum mechanics to solve certain complex calculations faster than conventional computers. Google founded its Quantum AI Lab in conjunction with its purchase of a machine from D-Wave, a Canadian company that claims to have built and sold the first commercial quantum computers.
"One question is clear: Where will future quantum computer scientists come from?" said the Google Quantum AI Lab team. "Our best guess: Minecraft."
Jeremy Hsu has been working as a science and technology journalist in New York City since 2008. He has written on subjects as diverse as supercomputing and wearable electronics for IEEE Spectrum. When he’s not trying to wrap his head around the latest quantum computing news for Spectrum, he also contributes to a variety of publications such as Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, and others. He is a graduate of New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program.