How Google brought quantum physics to Minecraft

Google's Quantum A.I. Lab Team introduces kids to quantum mechanics and computing through a new add-on to the wildly popular video game Minecraft which allows users to build entire worlds out of digital building blocks.

While Legos aren't going anywhere anytime soon, it's fair to say that the online building blocks game Minecraft is the modern-day online equivalent of Legos.

Minecraft, like Legos, is less a toy or a game than a complex system for building, playing, and learning, using hundreds (or thousands) of small units to build up complicated structures, systems, and scenarios.

And like Legos, it scales depending on what you want to do with it – a child can build a simple house; a world-class architect can build a profoundly sophisticated palace. And the former can concretely aspire to be the latter.

The beauty of Minecraft is that players can do quite a bit more than any but the best-funded Lego architect can manage.

You can create an assembly line. You can build a replica of the Taj Mahal. You can build a programmable computer. And now you can explore the world of quantum mechanics and computing thanks to an add-on by Google Quantum A.I. Lab Team.

The Team explained in a blog post:

Millions of kids are spending a whole lot of hours in Minecraft ... So how do we get these smart, creative kids excited about quantum physics?

We talked to our friends at MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and came up with a fun idea: a Minecraft modpack called qCraft. It lets players experiment with quantum behaviors inside Minecraft’s world, with new blocks that exhibit quantum entanglement, superposition, and observer dependency.

And while the Google team concedes that qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, perfection is beside the point – the main thing is that it's "a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples."

Minecraft in general (and quantum Minecraft specifically) offers students an opportunity to experience virtual experiential learning – which is to say, the virtual chance to learn something by doing it, rather than learning by reading or listening to a description.

All of this is exciting to a dad like myself, an old-school nerd raised by a digital design engineer (i.e a truly old-school nerd). I grew up building massive houses of cards with computer punch cards, the pieces of paper that used to be how computers were programmed and operated, graduating as an older kid to playing (and re-playing, and re-playing) the classic city planning game SimCity.

And now I can look forward to having a son who eventually builds his own worlds in Minecraft - and explores the world of quantum computing within those worlds, to boot.


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