Robots & Machines

After a Decade of Research, Microsoft Is Ready to Start Building Quantum Computers

Microsoft is making the move from research to engineering.

Jelor GallegoNovember 23rd 2016

A Different Path

Microsoft is making a bigger push toward building a scalable quantum computer, and it’s focusing on a type of qubits it thinks are better than the others.

The tech giant has been gobbling up quantum computing talent, hiring physicists from eminent universities: Leo Kouwenhoven of the University of Copenhagen, Charles Marcus from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Matthias Troyer of ETH Zurich, and David Reilly of the University of Sydney.

Leading them in the project is Microsoft executive Todd Holmdall, who has worked on products like Xbox, Kinect, and HoloLens. The cool thing is that Holmdall isn’t really a scientist — he is a Stanford-educated engineer. This represents Microsoft’s shift in focus from basic research to actually engineering a working quantum computer.

This shift is also reflected in their choice of qubit. Unlike most other quantum research groups, Microsoft is working with topological qubits, which are more stable than other types. They are also less likely to succumb to the environmental disturbances that make other qubits more unpredictable, which means they would be better suited for mass production.

Microsoft is also already working on software that could work with quantum computers, recently releasing a suite of tools called LIQUi|> on GitHub. These tools supposedly approximate the specs of a quantum computer, allowing software developers to preemptively create programs that could run in one.

A Quantum Leap

So why all the fuss about quantum computing? If you have been following computer hardware news, you’d know we are now at the limit of silicon-based computing power. Quantum computers could provide the next step in processing power and would be able to do calculations that would take ages in traditional computers.

This has profound implications in many fields. We’d be able to approximate natural organisms, making for better predictions in crop science or drug delivery. We could better model phenomena that occur all over the universe and create better robotics.

We would actually be able to use quantum computers to learn more about the nature of quantum systems. “My dream application for a quantum computer would be a machine that could solve problems in quantum physics,” Dr. Kouwenhoven told the New York Times. Who knows what kind of processing power we’ll be able to generate once we can use quantum computing to helps us build better quantum computers.

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