Google Made a Weird, Quantum Version of Minecraft

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Oct. 18 2013 7:04 PM

Google Is Teaching Quantum Physics to Minecraft Addicts

qCraft screenshot
In Google's weird, quantum version of Minecraft, things both are and are not what they seem.

Screenshot / YouTube

Now that Google has a quantum computer and a quantum artificial-intelligence lab, it has to figure out some mind-blowing things to do with it. But that’s probably going to be really hard. So hard, in fact, that a lot of the work will probably fall to future generations of quantum computer scientists.

In the meantime, the lab has come up with a pretty clever way to get kids interested in becoming those future quantum computer scientists: a software package that introduces some concepts from quantum physics into the popular indie computer game Minecraft. From the Quantum A.I. Lab’s Google Plus post on the project:

Millions of kids are spending a whole lot of hours in Minecraft, not just digging caves and fighting monsters, but building assembly lines, space shuttles, and programmable computers, all in the name of experimentation and discovery. 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. 
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In the context of the game, that apparently means you can build things like a modest hut that turns into a stone castle when you look away, or a staircase that has a random chance of being there or not there at any given time. You can also build a pair of entangled quantum computers that teleport things back and forth. Better put an ice block next to them to keep them cool, though.

Google is quick to admit that this is not an actual quantum physics engine. But it’s a way of bringing to life some of the common thought experiments used to describe quantum physics. (Is that a meow from Schrodinger’s cat in the video below?)

You can download the mod here, and learn more about how it works here.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.