Using intuition, human gamers solve problems that today's computers can't

The developers of a quantum computing game found that humans are better equipped to solve complex physics problems than are computers.

An Aarhus University ScienceAtHome researcher helps a player with one of the team's physics-based 'gamified' programs.

Scientists have been able to develop artificial intelligence (AI) capable of besting humans at their own games, but a new study suggests that people may have the upper hand when it comes to intuitive thinking.

A team of researchers led by Denmark's Aarhus University associate professor Jacob Sherson managed to develop a game based around complex theoretical science in which human players were "able to find solutions to difficult problems associated with the task of quantum computing," whereas computerized numerical optimization failed, according to the scientists' findings published in Nature.

"The big surprise we had was that some of the players actually had solutions that were of higher quality and of shorter duration than any computer algorithms could find," Mr. Sherson told the Associated Press.

The game, Quantum Moves, is available online for the purpose of helping in the development of quantum computing. While it functions as entertainment, Quantum Moves is built to take quantum physics optimization problems and turn them into a game, the results of which demonstrate fundamental differences between human thought processes and the problem solving of computers.

"One of the most distinctly human abilities is our ability to forget and to filter out information," Sherson said. "And that's very important here because we have a problem that's just so complicated you will never be finished if you attack it systematically."

The "gamification" process, or turning advanced science into a simpler interactive activity, has been utilized before. Sherson noted in his report that Foldit, EteRNA, and EyeWire – all "citizen science" games – contributed to research in protein and RNA folding as well as 3-D neuron mapping.

Quantum Moves takes gamification in a different direction, allowing players to control atoms using lasers, a process essential to the development of power-processing quantum computers. The theoretical devices would store their information in atoms, rather than in silicon-based structures, the management of which is still under study.

Solutions found in Quantum Moves through human trials may be able to point researchers in new directions on the quantum-computing conundrum.

"The work looks extremely solid and the solution is totally plausible," said Frank Wilhelm-Mauch, a University of Saarbruecken theoretical physics professor not associated with Sherson's work, about the study’s results in the quantum computing field, per the AP.

So while humans may never have some of the abilities of AI, the intuition we use to solve problems that computers simply couldn’t get through may provide new avenues of thought in other fields.

"It's slightly encouraging that there are problems where we humans are still superior to computer algorithms," Sherson said.

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