To date, we don’t have a working, full scale model of a quantum computer, but the promise of the technology is great that computer scientists are already creating systems that will allow quantum computer scientists to “hit the ground running” as soon as a full scale model becomes available.
To that end, last Friday, Microsoft released its in-house simulation software to the public. It’s called LIQUi|>, and no, that isn’t a typing error. According to Dave Wecker, chief architect of Microsoft’s quantum team, which is known as QuArC, the “LQI” stands for “Language integrated quantum.” The vertical bar stands for “ket,” which is essentially another way of referring the quantum state in tech speak. U is the operation performed on the quantum state and the “greater than” bracket, well, it’s simply a bracket to make things look nice.
Microsoft hopes that it will let academics, scientists, and other individuals interested in this tech simulate quantum computing on their laptops.
The promise of quantum computing, which operates down to sub-atomic levels, is that it can solve problems and perform tasks beyond the abilities of our most advanced computers today. The issue with current computers is that they represent all data as ones and zeros. This is the basic binary “on-or-off” function. It limits what we can do.
However, by relying on sub-atomic particles like photons or electrons, a quantum computer would be able to analyze data that can hold several contradictory states at the same time. So instead of ones and zeros, a quantum computer would deal with quantum bits (also known as qubits), which would accommodate multiple states. What this translates to in layman’s term is that quantum computers should be able to calculate certain problems, such as modeling molecules, much faster than transistor-based machines.
However, there is one problem with quantum computing, as was said, we don’t have a working quantum computer yet– it is still largely theoretical. Scientists think it will work, but the equipment required to run quantum calculations is not yet available. Wecker says that to keep all those sub-atomic particles in a stable state, the equipment has to be extremely cold, around 100 times colder than the temperature of outer space. That makes it a little hard to keep the machines running.
Adding to the difficulty is that there is no clear way on how to state the problems that need to be solved by quantum computers or,since this will be a whole new qubit-inspired realm, how to interpret results. Microsoft believes that this is something the simulator can help researchers get their minds around.
Wecker cites the creation of high-temperature superconductors as an example of a problem that a quantum computer could solve. He says: “We lose electricity on our transmission lines. Superconductors would have no losses, but no one can build a super conductor at anything near room temperature. We could model that on a quantum computer and at least have the hope of solving that problem.” The same thing applies to the creation of organic batteries that wouldn’t be dependent on expensive and toxic heavy metals. Wecker adds: “We know we can build them, but which molecules do we use? There are millions. A cloud of quantum computers could test them all out.”
While there are other quantum computing simulators in the market, including one from Google, Wecker says what differentiates LIQUi|> is its industrial strength. Academics or researchers can extend it and add their own quantum calculations as needed. There are no restrictions on use. The simulator is 30 qubits and requires 32 gigabytes of memory, hence it can run on a high-end laptop or desktop. But, Wecker warns, every qubit added will double the memory needed. For bigger requirements, he advises the use of cloud services such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Services, or Google Cloud Platform.
You can get it on the Github code repository.