Microsoft has announced that it is redoubling its efforts in the field of quantum computing, aiming to produce a scalable quantum computer using topological qubits.
Traditional computers, such as the one you're likely reading this on, operate on a binary principle: Each bit, the smallest unit of computing, is either zero or one, on or off, true or false. From those small building blocks it's possible to create surprisingly complex practical applications: web servers, games, robots, point-of-sale systems to name but a few. As the applications grow in complexity, however, the number of bits you need to process grows too; with Moore's Law, the famous observation by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors in a semiconductor product line typically doubles every eighteen months, looking increasingly shaky, the race is on to find the next big thing.
Quantum computing is just one such candidate, boasting backers ranging from NASA, the NSA, and Google to software giant Microsoft. Unlike traditional processors, where a bit can be either zero or one, a classic quantum processor holds each bit in superposition - meaning it's both zero and one simultaneously. The result is a system significantly faster for certain types of problem than a traditional binary computer, but one which is in the very early stages of development and for which no route to scalability has been conclusively proven.
That's something Microsoft's research arm is aiming to fix. 'I think we’re at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering,
' claimed Todd Holmdahl, heading up the company's quantum computing division, in a blog post
announcing renewed investment. 'You have to take some amount of risk in order to make a big impact in the world, and I think we’re at the point now that we have the opportunity to do that.
Part of that risk is in two new hires: Leo Kouwenhoven and Charles Marcus, both experts in quantum computing, who will be joined by fellow pioneers Matthais Troyer and David Reilly in due course. The rest comes in the form of heavy investment into research on topological qubits: qubits, the quantum processor's equivalent of bit-switching transistor, which the company claims are far more resistant to electrical noise and excess heat than the qubits that have previously been trialled.
While Microsoft has teased its hardware and software stack, the company has not yet announced a roadmap for commercialisation of its quantum computing efforts.