Queen's University

Queen's School of Computing takes a quantum leap

 
2010-08-26
[Undergraduate student Alice Wismath plays her version of Quantum chess]School of Computing Director Selim Akl and undergraduate student Alice Wismath show off their version of Quantum Chess.  

For a long time, chess has been considered the ultimate game of strategy. But computers, like IBM’s Deep Blue, have become stiff competition for humans. There are now only a handful of people in the world who can beat the best computers.

Now, researchers at the School of Computing at Queen’s University have come up with a game that puts the person and the machine on equal footing. It’s called Quantum Chess, and it throws the conventional rules of chess out the window.

“We are bringing an element of unpredictability to chess,” says Queen’s School of Computing Director Selim Akl, who authored a paper on how to bring “quantum weirdness” to the traditional game.

Developed by undergraduate student Alice Wismath, who selected the new rules from the endless possibilities suggested in Akl’s paper, the electronic game has the same number of squares and the same pieces as original chess. But each piece has both a primary and a secondary type – a rook can also be a pawn, a queen can also be a knight, and so on. When the pieces are on white squares, the player can see what the piece is at that particular moment. But when moved to a black square, the piece shifts to a quantum state. The player has no way of knowing what the piece will be until he or she attempts to move it.

Because of this, it’s possible for there to be as many as four queens – or as few as none – on the board at a time. It also means that the forethought that is so coveted in traditional chess is not nearly as effective in the quantum version.

Ms Wismath’s game has so many variations and possibilities that it is nearly impossible, the researchers say, to program a computer that could play the game consistently well.

“You can throw away all the strategies you used before, because this is a completely new game and it puts the player and the computer on equal footing,” says Dr. Akl.

The Quantum Chess project is part of the on-going research on quantum computation being carried out in the Queen's School of Computing. The current computer program is only a simulation; the ultimate goal of the project is to produce a true physical board for the game.

You can play Ms Wismath’s version of quantum chess here.

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