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Microsoft Plans to Build a Quantum Computer

By Pedro Hernandez (Send Email)
Posted November 21, 2016


Microsoft is on a mission to build a quantum computer, and the company has appointed Todd Holmdahl to manage the project.

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Holmdahl is the corporate vice president of Microsoft Quantum, a unit dedicated to turning the company's quantum computing research into real-world products. He previously helped shepherd the development of the Xbox, Kinect motion controller and HoloLens augmented reality headset as commercialized products..

Now Holmdahl and his team are gearing up to bring quantum computing into the mainstream.

"I think we're at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering," he stated in a Nov. 20 blog post. "None of these things are a given. But 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."

Microsoft is banking on topological qubits, increasing its funding of research programs that push the technology forward. Unlike conventional qubits, which require exceptionally cold temperatures and finely-tuned systems to operate properly, Holmdahl's group is betting that topological qubits can be used to process quantum calculations at higher temperatures and in environments subjected to electrical noise.

Two years ago, Microsoft peeled back the curtain on Station Q, a quantum computing lab located in the  University of California, Santa Barbara campus. The renewed push suggests researchers have made progress in using topological mathematics—the study of geometric properties that remain constant if stretched or bent—when dealing with "fussy" qubits that can wreck a calculation when exposed to the slightest interference.

The company is also working on software to run the system, enabling it to solve problems the moment it is brought online. Naturally, the company is already anticipating the day it adds working quantum hardware and software to its "intelligent cloud" solutions slate, similar to how it is using solid-state drives and Nvidia graphical processing units to power high-performance computing workloads on Azure.

Meanwhile, the quantum competition is heating up.

This past spring, IBM Research announced it was offering the public access to its quantum processor via IBM cloud, enabling them to run experiments.

"Today we're laying the foundation by inviting anyone interested to create algorithms and run experiments on IBM's quantum processor, play with individual quantum bits (qubits), learn about quantum computing through tutorials and simulations, and get inspired by the possibilities of a quantum computer," said Dario Gil, Vice President vice president of IBM Research Science and Solutions unit, in a May 3 announcement.

To ensure that Internet data remains protected when large-scale quantum computers finally arrive—such systems could hypothetically break the cryptographic primitives used in TLS (Transport Layer Security)—Google is experimenting with post-quantum cryptography in its Chrome web browser.

The experiment involves using "a post-quantum key-exchange algorithm" in addition to the established algorithm for a fraction of the connections between desktop Chrome browsers and Google's servers, explained Matt Braithwaite, a Google software engineer, in a blog post.

Originally published on eWeek.
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