Microsoft to focus on quantum computing: Satya Nadella

Quantum computer enables you to encode information, not just as one or zero but as one and zero simultaneously, Satya Nadella said at Microsoft’s Ignite conference.

| Updated on: Sep 26 2017, 10:23 IST
Satya Nadella hopes quantum computing will help unlock “amazing parallelism.”
Satya Nadella hopes quantum computing will help unlock “amazing parallelism.” (AFP)
Satya Nadella hopes quantum computing will help unlock “amazing parallelism.”
Satya Nadella hopes quantum computing will help unlock “amazing parallelism.” (AFP)

Microsoft is now looking to build a robust ecosystem for quantum computing. The new technology is said to help scientists do computations in a fraction of time.

"A quantum computer enables you to encode information, not just as one or zero but as one and zero simultaneously. That means it unlocks amazing parallelism," Nadella said in his key note address at Microsoft's Ignite conference on Monday.

This kind of technology is being used by the most advanced computers today.

"You could take a quantum computer and solve some of these unsolvable problems because they approach it with that amazing parallelism where they'll take every path in the corn maze simultaneously. That's the intuition behind the power of quantum," he said.

Of course, building a quantum computer requires a lot more than just that simple intuition, he conceded.

"We have had to assemble a world-class team. In fact, we've had to take a very novel approach of bringing together breakthroughs in math, fundamental physics, and computer science together, and put a system or get started on a journey to put a system that's going to be a truly scalable general purpose quantum computer," he said.

Appearing with Nadella, Michael Freedman who joined Microsoft's theoretical research group two decades ago, said Microsoft's qubit will be based on a new form of matter called topological matter that also has this property that as the information stored in the matter is stored globally, one can't find the information in any particular place.

Freedman was a renowned math genius known for his fundamental research into an obscure field of math called topology.

According to Allison Linn, his job was simply to keep doing math, no strings attached.

"That broad charter has ended up putting Microsoft on the path to building the first topological qubit, a robust type of quantum bit that Microsoft believes will serve as the basis for a scalable, general purpose quantum computer system – and mark a profound breakthrough in the field of quantum physics," she said.

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".

On Monday, Microsoft showcased the progress it has made toward developing both a topological qubit and the ecosystem of hardware and software that will eventually allow a wide range of developers to take advantage of quantum computing's power.

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, Allen said.

What Microsoft has done that's really unique in its approach to quantum computing, which is to first of all recognise that each one of these steps is actually very hard, Freedman said.

"In fact, it may seem like making the chip with the Majoranas is the hard part, or thinking of the idea is the hard part. But actually they're all hard. And everything from the software that we'll hear about in a second to the cryogenic engineering is extremely difficult," he said.

"We've invented new materials that support Majoranas. We've built the chips. They're back in our labs in the refrigerator down at the bottom of the refrigerator with our students and colleagues working hard to check off the list of all the properties that they're supposed to have, to fictionalise the electrons and verify that they're at the two ends of the chip.

And the work is going forward," Freedman said.

Computer scientist Krysta Svore said at Microsoft they are building a comprehensive full stack solution so that they can actually run revolutionary applications on this newly revolutionary device.

"So this includes the quantum chip that we've just discussed in this dilution refrigerator. But it also includes a cryogenic classical computer that's also operating in the dilution refrigerator," she told the audience.

"And this is unlike any classical computer we have today. It has to operate at 4 kelvin. That's around minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty darn cold. And we need that to control the quantum computer itself. And then, of course, my favourite part, on top of all of that you need software," she added.

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First Published Date: 26 Sep, 10:01 IST