Microsoft Corp. made itself a household name with personal computers and the ubiquitous Windows operating systems that came with them. And after being at the forefront of the development of digital computing (bugs notwithstanding) for about three decades, the technology giant is now trying to push a new frontier — quantum computing.
In a blog post Sunday, the company said it “is doubling down on its commitment to the tantalizing field of quantum computing, making a strong bet that it is possible to create a scalable quantum computer using what is called a topological qubit.”
Qubit is the quantum counterpart of a digital bit, which is the building block of modern computers used to store and process data. Bits are expressed in binary and exist as either 0 or 1. Qubits, on the other hand, can exist as 0 and 1 simultaneously, allowing for processing information at speeds orders of magnitude faster than classic computing.
Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s quantum program, said in the blog post the years of research by the company has created a “clear roadmap” for a scalable quantum computer. “I think we’re at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering,” he said.
The research is necessary because qubits are difficult to manage, since quantum systems they are part of are unstable and collapse when disturbed by heat or electric charge. Therefore, quantum computers need to be built in really cold and sterile environments. According to Holmdahl, “a topological design is less impacted by changes in its environment.”
The company is working not only on quantum computing hardware, but also software that will run on those machines to create systems that can solve highly complex problems. It has already hired some of the world’s leading figures in the field, and some more are coming aboard soon.
The vast processing power that quantum computers could unleash has applications in many fields. Such computers could emulate entire physical systems, and increase our understanding of various complex phenomenon manifolds.
“There is a real opportunity to apply these computers to things that I’ll call material sciences of physical systems. A lot of these problems are intractable on a classical computer, but on a quantum computer we believe that they are tractable in a reasonable period of time,” Holmdahl said.