Microsoft takes path less traveled to build a quantum computer

Microsoft takes path less traveled to build a quantum computer

Microsoft takes path less traveled to build a quantum computer

If it works. On Monday, the company unveiled a new programming language called Q# - pronounced Q Sharp - and tools that help coders craft software for quantum computers.

Microsoft says this could include breakthroughs in artificial intelligence to get computers to recognise things, with language and image recognition possible, while the idea of quantum teleportation makes it possible for data to appear at the exact same time as something else, potentially speeding computers up immeasurably.

"The hope is that you play with something like teleportation and you get intrigued", said Krysta Svore, a principal researcher at Microsoft.

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It's deeply integrated into Visual Studio, Microsoft's suite of developer tools, so aspects of it will be familiar to people who are already developing applications in other programming languages. The local quantum computer simulator can simulate around 30 logical qubits of quantum computing power.

To enable developers to test quantum algorithms and solutions written in Q#, Microsoft has included a local simulator in the kit available from within Visual Studio. Microsoft has unveiled a free version of its Quantum Development Kit (Get started here). Rather, it's a field called "quantum computing", and it's a style of computer design that changes the hardware and software from working through the binary translation we tend to do now to a new type of language, working with bits.

In May previous year, IBM - which is pursuing a superconducting circuits approach to building a quantum computer - provided researchers access via the cloud to its five-qubit machine. Microsoft's ambition is to build physical quantum computers using "topological qubits", a kind of quantum bit that's more resilient to unwanted influence from its environment and which, henceforth, will require fewer qubits to do useful work.

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"It seems like there's a huge amount of potential there, and we're just scratching the surface", she said.

The apps that the developers build using the dev kit and the quantum computer simulator will eventually run on a production quantum computer when they are available.

And that means when paired with the right hardware and software, quantum computing can process more and do it faster, solving problems that high-performance computing is designed for in a shorter amount of time. Google and IBM have produced machines that are thought to be close to achieving "quantum supremacy" - the ability to tackle a problem too complex to solve on any standard supercomputer. The company's researchers also are working on projects focused on cryptography and security in a quantum computing world. The hope is that these tools will make the power of quantum computing accessible to many more people. Unwanted interactions between the qubits and their environment mean that effective quantum algorithms need not only qubits for the actual computation but additional qubits for error-checking and detection. Engineers are close to being able to control the Majorana fermion in a way that will enable them to perform calculations, Todd Holmdahl, head of Microsoft's quantum computing efforts, said in an interview.

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