Microsoft Lays Groundwork For Revolutionary Quantum Computing Breakthrough With New Programming Language
Microsoft and other major tech firms around the world are working hard towards the next breakthrough in computing, something many pinning their hopes on quantum computing. One of Microsoft's top researchers, Michael Freedman, has been with the company for twenty years and has put Microsoft on the path to build the first topological qubit. A topological qubit is a robust type of quantum bit that Microsoft hopes will serve as the basis for a scalable, general purpose quantum computer system. The discovery of this qubit would also be a major breakthrough in quantum physics as well.
"We’re seeing the potential foundation for a new, revolutionary technology," said Todd Holmdahl, the Microsoft corporate vice president in charge of the quantum effort. "You know, I get goosebumps."
One major components involved in moving the world towards quantum computing is a new programming language that is designed to work on a quantum simulator and a quantum computer. This new programming language is deeply integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio.
"Microsoft’s plan to build a quantum computing ecosystem is based on Freedman’s field of math and a branch of physics so seemingly mystical its early pioneers invoked philosophy and spirituality to describe it, and its later disciples attracted funding and support from self-help gurus in the 1970s," the company writes. "Even today, experts use terms like "magic state" to describe some elements of quantum computing theory and practice."
Despite having seemingly mystical and magical properties, Microsoft sees a real future where quantum computing has practical benefits. Microsoft says that a quantum computer would allow scientists to run computations in minutes or hours that would take the lifetime of the universe on even the most advanced computer systems in use today. That is hard to even wrap your brain around. The speed at which a quantum computer can operate and perform calculations would allow scientists to find answers to questions that people think of as unanswerable (like the answer to life, the universe and everything or what is 42).
"A quantum computer is able to model nature," said Krysta Svore. "With classical computers we’re not able to really understand those processes." Svore has played a large role in Microsoft's efforts, she has led development of the software designed to work on quantum computers along with the simulators designed to let testing of that software continue before quantum computers actually exist.
Freedman and fellow researchers continue to work on bringing the quantum compteur to life. Freedman says, "I’ve been asked about the applications of quantum computing – you know, what motivates me? Do I want to cure disease, design new materials, protect the environment? The truth is, it’s none of that. At this point in the project, the only thing I care about is making the quantum computer work."
Microsoft doesn't just want a one-off quantum computer for the lab, it wants a quantum computing system with everything from hardware able to run consistently to a complete software stack that can program and control the quantum computer. One of the biggest challenges is making a logical qubit reliable enough to perform a useful computation. The software is also a big challenge and this week the latest milestone in the quest came in the programming languages designed for quantum computing that allows developers to create apps to debug on quantum simulators available now.
The software being deeply embedded in Visual Studio means that the tools developers rely on for computers today will be there in the future for quantum computing like debugging and auto complete. Microsoft's software will be available by the end of the year as a free preview and will include libraries and tutorials. Microsoft writes, "It’s designed to work at a higher level of abstraction, so that developers without quantum expertise can actually call quantum subroutines, or write sequences of programming instructions, working up to writing a complete quantum program."
Microsoft wants its programming language and quantum simulators to help people interested in quantum computing to get an idea of how to harness this immense power to solve problems. Having the software available now will give the users a leg up when the real quantum computers finally land. IBM is also working heavily on quantum computing while Google is already working to protect Chrome from quantum hacking.