Gamers, physicists come together at fifth annual Quantum Jam in Helsinki
If you look at the history of computing, you’ll find that it runs side by side with the history of computer games. From Bertie the Brain in 1950 to Spacewar! In 1962, early games were designed to do serious tasks alongside the fun, such as showcasing hardware, providing examples of how software is written or pushing devices to their extremes. These examples show us what games can do for emerging technology. It’s an example that has been followed many times with AI, including IBM Research’s programs to play checkers in the 50s, chess in the 90s and, most recently, the TV game show Jeopardy!. Now it’s time to do the same with quantum computing.
This is something I started back in 2017, when I created Battleships with partial NOTgates.This used Qiskit, our open source framework for quantum computing, and was the first game ever to run on a real quantum computer. This simple version of Battleships showcases a few simple elements of quantum programming, but it’s designed more to help people learn Qiskit than to actually be played. More games have followed with a similar scope, as well as other creative projects to design images and music with our prototype quantum devices.
Armed with these examples, I recently took a trip to Finland. First I gave a lecture on game design at Aalto University to explain the opportunities that quantum computers will bring in the future, as well as how they are being used today. Then I participated in a game jam.
This was no ordinary game jam. It was a quantum game jam that took place on a ferris wheel in Helsinki. As well as being challenged to create a game from scratch over the course of a weekend, the participants also needed to incorporate quantum physics. This could be done by using a tool to simulate Bose-Einstein condensates, provided by the University of Turku. Or it could be done by using Qiskit and IBM’s publicly available quantum computers. The participants were also asked to think about the noisy effects that are present in current quantum devices, and use that as inspiration for their game mechanic. Identifying and working around quantum noise will be a crucial aspect of near-term quantum programming. And what better way to understand a fight against the forces of chaos than through a game!
The final result was a great success for both quantum options. Each were used exclusively by four of the ten games, with the remaining two using a mixture of both. Here’s a rundown of how Qiskit was used in the game jam.
The participants of the game jam included people from many different backgrounds, such as programmers, musicians and visual artists. In addition, there were also quite a few physicists on hand to help out with any tricky concepts. No team had more physicists than the one that developed Q|Cards⟩, so it’s no surprise that it was the most educational game. The process of creating a quantum program was turned into a card game. Each player is given a quantum bit, or qubit, and needs to play their hand to ensure that their qubit is among the victors. By keeping track of how the game progresses, players learn the basic operations of quantum computing.
Qiskit is used in this game as the final referee. It reproduces all the plays as a quantum program, and can either simulate the result itself or send it off to be run on a real quantum computer. Using a real device means that noise will also be present in the result, adding an extra dimension to gameplay: certain moves are less noisy than others, and so more likely to lead to a certain victory. These noisy effects can also be seen with the recently upgraded Qiskit simulators, which have the ability to mimic complex errors.
The team behind this game was not all physicists. The snazzy interface between the cards and the quantum computer was put together by veteran game jammer Samuli Jääskeläinen, who has created over 100 games. A musical accompaniment was made by by Elie Abraham who is also the veteran of more than 90 jams. The beautiful cards themselves were designed by the team’s two artists.
If you are ever at an event where IBM Q is giving out swag, expect to see Q|Cards⟩!
Qubit the Barbarian
One of the main differences between qubits and bits is that there are multiple ways to extract a value. In the quantum community, these are known as complementary measurement bases. But by using Qiskit within a game, we can find different ways to understand them. This was the approach taken by the Qubit the Barbarian team. The aim is to navigate a maze which changes as you measure it, allowing you to find the key and escape. Despite using using quantum computing to implement its basic game mechanic, there’s no overt quantumness from the perspective of the player. This is where the future of quantum computing lies: in the background, quietly doing the jobs that can’t be done otherwise.
Qubit Gardenerand SneaQysnake
The simplest application of quantum computers is in the generation of random numbers. These are truly random in a way that is not possible otherwise, and so could be used in cases where our standard pseudo-random numbers are not good enough. This was an opportunity taken by Qubit Gardener and SneaQysnake.
Qubit Gardener offers a nice relaxing experience where you water a garden and flowers appear. Using quantum random numbers from Qiskit, these randomly take various cute forms created by Angry Birds designer Jaakko Iisalo.
SneaQysnake is a new twist on the classic Snake game, with challenges inspired by ideas from quantum physics. All the required randomness, such as the positions of apples, are provided by Qiskit.
Quantum Cabaretand Schrödinger’s Living Room
Quantum Cabaret is a game where music takes center stage. And it’s in the music that we find Qiskit. Specifically, this team used the Quantum Toy Piano created by Qiskit advocate James Weaver to create a music score, which was then used as part of a jazz improvisation.
Schrödinger’s Living Room has a basic game mechanic inspired by quantum superposition, but it’s the music where you can find the influence of a real quantum computer. This was via the Wave Function Collapse algorithm, a popular quantum-inspired algorithm for randomly generating all kinds of art that can be used in games. I modified this algorithm to add in some genuine quantumness, and used it to generate music using one of our cloud quantum computers. These simple quantum chords were then incorporated into the soundtrack of the game.
The event was a great learning experience for all the game designers, but it was also very useful for those of us providing Qiskit and access to cloud quantum computing. The event also provides a great learning opportunity for the players. And since the game are all available for free online, you can try them out! So if you want to play cards with a quantum computer, or slay monsters as a quantum barbarian, check them out.
I spoke to @IBM folks in Zurich who are giving a crowd of game developers & just enthusiasts an opportunity to use IBM's 16-qubit quantum computer to design games.
They'll be doing it next weekend in Helsinki, in a *sauna* & on a Ferris wheel in sub-zero temp (don't ask me why) pic.twitter.com/pm6TcCQQNv
Founded in March 2020 just as the pandemic’s wave was starting to wash over the world, the Consortium has brought together 43 members with supercomputing resources. Private and public enterprises, academia, government and technology companies, many of whom are typically rivals. “It is simply unprecedented,” said Dario Gil, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research, one of the founding organizations. “The outcomes we’ve achieved, the lessons we’ve learned, and the next steps we have to pursue are all the result of the collective efforts of these Consortium’s community.”
The next step? Creating the National Strategic Computing Reserve to help the world be better prepared for future global emergencies.