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How QPlayLearn treads the fine line between oversimplification and demystification


For many years, quantum computing has seemed like an impossible dream—a bit like artificial intelligence (AI), but perhaps even more so. Scientists knew that it ought to be possible, but actually delivering on the promise was completely different. For AI, the problem was solved by an increase in computing power that has enabled very complex algorithms to run, coupled with an explosion in the volume of data available from connected devices.

Quantum computing is now on the cusp of a similar breakthrough. It is no longer a theoretical possibility, but a practical reality. IBM, one of the leaders in quantum computing, has created quantum computers with 127 and 433 qubits: the largest ones in existence. One has even been bought by the Cleveland Clinic—but only one.

Making the case for the future

And that is the real issue: persuading potential users of the value and benefits to be gained from quantum computing. The technology is simply so complex—some would even say mind-blowing—that it is hard for non-specialists to grasp the potential and identify use cases.

Interestingly, we saw a similar issue with AI. It was initially seen as a complex technology that few could understand. Organisations hesitated to adopt it because of that lack of understanding, and fear of the ‘black box’. Slowly but surely, however, AI is making its way into the mainstream thanks to education campaigns by tech companies and others. These have successfully convinced forward-thinking organisations to harness AI-based algorithms carefully and thoughtfully to improve the way they operate.

Who will play that educational role for quantum? Step up QPlayLearn, run by a team of quantum physicists, mostly from an academic background and with a passion for quantum science.

Introducing QPlayLearn

QPlayLearn is a platform for educational materials and content about quantum science. It has been developed in collaboration with several universities to provide content that explains quantum science in simple, non-technical terms, but without ‘dumbing down’ the ideas to the point of being scientifically incorrect.
The founder of QPlayLearn, Sabrina Maniscalco, notes that quantum physics is often perceived as a very difficult theory to grasp. She agrees that it is certainly counterintuitive.

However, QPlayLearn seems determined to help its users get beyond that issue and start to understand the technology. It uses several different approaches and resources, including:

  • Tailor-made content for different groups of users. The three main groups identified are educators, students and ‘curious people’; companies, policy-makers and the media; and artists and curators of museums and exhibition space. These three groups will all have a variety of tailored content available, following the different needs of each audience. This includes support for artists and curators to create exhibitions inspired by quantum science as a way to raise awareness even further.
  • A variety of different types of content. This includes animations, videos, video games, and other multimedia content to build intuition and engagement, grasp physical concepts through easy-to-follow explanations, but also acquire – for those who want to go deeper – a more formal understanding through mathematics. Extensive resources are freely available also for teachers and schools who want to educate students about quantum science but don’t know where to start.
  • Training courses for companies and other organisations. QPlayLearn offers training courses and materials for businesses, policy-makers and people in the media. It has also received funding from the European Union to develop retraining courses for companies including courses with a focus on in the life sciences. These materials raise awareness of specific applications of quantum computing, and how these technologies may contribute to solving big, intractable problems such as protein folding or accurate chemistry simulations of complex molecules.

A multi-level approach

The tailored content is of course an important aspect of QPlayLearn. However, the website makes clear that content is expected to ‘earn its living’ by being appealing to multiple users on several levels. All QPlayLearn’s content is designed to be scientifically sound, no matter what audience it targets. It is also designed to be fun, interesting and interactive, to make it as engaging as possible, no matter whether it is intended for a CEO of a large company or a school kid.

QPlayLearn’s website notes the dangers of misleading analogies and oversimplification, especially with very complex technologies. However, it appears to be successfully treading the fine line between this and the demystification of a very complex area of science. It is clear that the researchers involved understand quantum science on a much deeper level than most people will ever need. You have only to read their opinion that it’s “more difficult to talk about quantum physics with words than with formulas” to appreciate that. However, it is also clear that they have a passion for communicating their subject. This shines out loud and clear—and will hopefully inspire others to find out more.

Find out more about QPlayLearn here.