- Microsoft is ready to go from scalable quantum computing hardware and software research to engineering.
- The company is assembling an all-stars team of leaders in the emerging quantum computing sector, with an eye on cloud applications.
- According to Bill Gates, within 6-10 years cloud computing will offer super-computation by using quantum.
Quantum computers, which process information encoded in quantum bits - qubits - that can be in a quantum superposition of zero and one states, could process information much faster than today's computers by exploiting subtle quantum phenomena such as quantum entanglement. Here's why Microsoft stock may make a quantum jump in the long term due to its big bet on scalable quantum computers.
The theoretical peak performance of quantum computers increases very fast with the number of qubits - which justifies the interest of tech giants and funding agencies - but so does the engineering challenge of building practical, operational, high-performance quantum processors. Scalable quantum computing systems, where the number of processing qubits can be increased without running into insurmountable difficulties, are the Holy Grail of quantum computing.
Now, Microsoft is making a strong bet that it is possible to create a scalable quantum computer.
"I think we’re at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering," said Microsoft executive Todd Holmdahl, corporate VP of Microsoft’s quantum program. Holmdahl, who previously played a key role in the development of the Xbox, Kinect and HoloLens, will lead the scientific and engineering effort to create scalable quantum hardware and software.
Holmdahl noted that success is never guaranteed, but Microsoft has a clear roadmap to a scalable quantum computer. "[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," he said.
Microsoft will try and build a quantum computer based on "topological qubits" with physical properties that should make them immune to environmental noise – which would otherwise degrade the delicate quantum-superposed states that make quantum data processing possible. The company believes that topological qubits could withstand heat or electrical noise, allowing them to remain in a quantum state long enough to sustain practical and effective operations. "A topological design is less impacted by changes in its environment," said Holmdahl.
Four leaders in the field of quantum computing are joining Microsoft to help the company develop a topological quantum computer, Physics World reports. Leo Kouwenhoven of the Delft University of Technology and Charles Marcus of the University of Copenhagen, already hired by the software giant, will build dedicated Microsoft quantum labs at their respective universities. Microsoft is also hiring quantum algorithms theorist Matthias Troyer of ETH Zurich, and David Reilly of the University of Sydney, who develops quantum devices based on nanostructures, the first of nanotechnology research.
"A quantum computer is much more than the qubits," Reilly said. "It includes all of the classical hardware systems, interfaces and connections to the outside world." Of course, since quantum computers that exploit unique quantum states of matter are different from conventional computers and able to run unique quantum algorithms, which require new programming concepts and environments, developing suitable quantum computing software is one of Microsoft's goals.
"Similar to classical high-performance computing, we need not just hardware but also optimized software," said Troyer.
According to many experts, analysts, and tech titans including Microsoft's own Bill Gates, quantum computing could revolutionize computing in less than a decade. "[Quantum computing] could tackle problems that would take today’s computers eons to solve in the time it takes to grab a cup of coffee," claimed Microsoft in 2015. "It could have wildest imagination-type applications in fields such as machine learning and medicine, chemistry and cryptography, materials science and engineering. It could allow humans to understand and control the very building blocks of the universe."
In a research paper, Microsoft researchers and external scientists argued that an operational quantum computer could be achieved - presumably by Microsoft itself - in 2025. "Recent improvements in control of quantum systems make it seem feasible to finally build a quantum computer within a decade," noted the researchers.
Microsoft seems to be pivoting to a new business model based on cloud computing, and high profile government and corporate clients are signing up. Next-generation Microsoft cloud services include Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. "[We] are building out Azure [Microsoft's cloud computing platform] as the first AI supercomputer," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Therefore, it's not surprising that advanced cloud computing is among the applications targeted by Microsoft's push to scalable quantum computing. It makes sense, indeed, to offer powerful quantum computing algorithms for AI and Big Data in the cloud. "There is a chance that within 6-10 years cloud computing will offer super-computation by using quantum," said Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Microsoft is betting on this chance, and smart investors with a long-term view should consider betting too.
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