Dr James Wootton


A quantum successor to Paul the Octopus

Who will win the World Cup? In 2010, we had an octopus to help us. In 2014 we had to actually watch the games to find out. But this year, we have quantum computers.

Though quantum computers will be good at many things, predicting the outcomes of sports games will not be one of them. But let’s not allow silly things like facts to hold us back. Let’s do it anyway!

I took the flags of all participants in this years world cup and gave them a name in binary. The first three bits of these names tell us the group they are in (000 for group A, 001 for group B, etc). The last two bits tell us where they were in the group before the competition began (00 for top, 11 for bottom, etc). So it’s a fairly sensible and not entirely arbitrary binary encoding.

Then I told a quantum computer to create a quantum superposition of all these file names. I used IBM’s 5 qubit device called Tenerife, so expect a slight bias towards Spain.

Next I got the device to give me an output. In fact, I got it to give me lots of outputs. Each one was one of the file name, randomly generated by the quantum superposition. This is quite an underwhelming use of a quantum computer, to be honest. But it’s an easy one to do. Like a Hello World, but with a football theme.

Finally I took these results and used them to create a composite image, superposing the flags on top of each other to create one flag to rule them all.

And here it is.

Quantum computers are all about interference. Incorrect solutions get destructive interference. Correct ones get amplified.

Doing this requires a quantum algorithm to be written that will actually do the job. Admittedly, this is one small detail that we completely skipped. We just randomly generated outputs rather than doing anything sensible. But let’s just press on regardless. Take a look at the image above, and see which team will win.

To me it looks like a 6 way split between Brazil, Iceland, South Korea, Australia, Uruguay and Croatia. To compare, here’s what the image would look like with only these flags.

The quantum computer seems to think that it will be one of these six countries, but it doesn’t know which yet. Perhaps there are some parallel universes that still need to be resolved.

With the exception of Brazil, you might have noticed that none of these are teams that the experts expect to win (though there is a pig that predicts Uruguay). That’s probably because they haven’t taken the opportunity to use one of the cloud based prototype quantum processors available now. I’m sure they’ll realize the error of their ways soon. Perhaps while they are watching the Australia-South Korea final.

This misuse of a prototype quantum processor was just a bit of fun. Don’t go betting your house on these ‘predictions’. But if you want to have your own fun with quantum computers, take a look at my source code, check out Hello Quantum, or see the link below.

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