An unlikely battle took place in California last night: Paul Rudd and Stephen Hawking had a not-so-friendly match of quantum chess, a variation of the classic game that employs the laws of quantum mechanics to make things more interesting.
The video, which you can check out below, is narrated by "future Keanu Reeves" and was debuted at the Caltech event “One Entangled Evening,” which kicked off a special one-day conference on the future of quantum technology.
Scripted in Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM) and directed by "Bill & Ted" actor and director Alex Winter, the short video had Hollywood actor Paul Rudd challenging Dr. Hawking to a game of quantum chess. Without spoiling anything, seeing Rudd try to learn quantum mechanics in a matter of hours is pretty funny, and the match itself proves once again that even complex concepts such as superposition or entanglement can be made accessible and entertaining.
"What sparked the idea for a celebratory event was the realization that Richard Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics 50 years ago last month," said John Preskill, director of the IQIM, in a statement.
"Aside from being a great scientist, Feynman was legendary for his success at conveying the excitement of science to broad audiences. We'll be doing appropriate homage to Feynman if 'One Entangled Evening' turns out to be entertaining as well as inspiring for the audience."
The first version of quantum chess was developed by undergraduate student Alice Wismath, at Queen’s University. It was based on rules set out by her professor, Selim Akl, which codify the principle of superposition into the rules of chess.
In Alice’s versions, every piece but the king is in a quantum superposition of two equivalent states. So for example, the piece located in the queen spot has a 50 percent chance to be a queen and 50 percent chance to be a rook (or a knight, or a pawn, etc.). The superposition is fair (e.g. nobody gets extra queens) and the piece collapses in one of their two possibilities when they’re either moved or captured.
The IQIM’s version, designed by USC graduate Chris Cantwell, has a different approach. The superposition is spatial: a single piece can occupy two squares at the same time with equal probability, and players are also allowed to use quantum entanglement. This means a piece can be linked to a different piece in superposition. The collapse of one will cause the other to collapse. This version makes it significantly harder for a player to capture pieces as neither player knows exactly where any superpositioned piece is at any one time.
The game is not available yet, but it will be soon when the Kickstarter campaign launches in February, according to Nerdist.