Microsoft is closing in on faster quantum computer tech

With Google just having announced quantum supremacy, Microsoft are hot on their tail. So what is a qubit, and why have Microsoft redesigned it?
Microsoft says that their topological qubit is ‘almost ready’. Image: Microsoft

Quantum computing; in a nutshell

Quantum computing is a concept which has been around since the ’80s. As we reported last month, the big players in the tech R&D world are making this concept a reality.

Google have announced reaching quantum supremacy. This basically means that they have produced a quantum computer which can perform tasks exceptionally faster than traditional computers.

How much faster? Well that’s a topic under dispute. Google claim their quantum computer can cut down a 10,000 year task to just 200 seconds. IBM refute this, claiming the comparable Summit supercomputer that Google have used for their comparable could complete the task in 2.5 days.

Still not 200 seconds though, is it!

What are Microsoft doing to compete?

Microsoft have made a breakthrough in their work to redesign the qubit; this is a core element within quantum computing. Qubit is short for ‘quantum bit’. This is the equivalent to a binary digit, or bit, within traditional computing. It is the basic unit of information within quantum computing.

Qubits are extremely fragile, which makes redeveloping them a tricky task. Interfering can cause qubits to collapse. This hurdle has made further innovation a puzzle, since once the qubits collapse the computations can no longer be completed.

The hardware in development is called a topoligical qubit. This could drive forward quantum technology exponentially, making quantum computing accessible in ways which are current only theoretical.

Krysta Svore, General Manager of Microsoft’s quantum department, says that after five years of development they are ‘almost ready to put them to use‘.

Gloved hands holding a qubit

Microsoft have made a breakthrough in developing a new qubit. Image: Microsoft

What is a topological qubit and what impact could it have?

The big problem with quantum computing is that we know it has a hugely powerful potential. However, how to develop hardware which can deliver that potential is quite another matter.

Microsoft explain that; ‘Topological qubits are protected from noise due to their values existing at two distinct points, making our quantum computer more robust against outside interference. This increased stability will help the quantum computer scale to complete longer, more complex computations, bringing the solutions we need within reach.

The concept is that applying topological properties to a qubit will enable it to retain data, regardless of what is happening around it. In essence, however the qubit is moved or manipulated, it will remain unchanged. This overcomes their inherent fragility.

The inner workings of a quantum computer
With Google announcing quantum supremacy, Microsoft are making their own breakthroughs. Image: Microsoft

What is the future of quantum computing?

There is a reason this technology has been decades in the making. Quantum computing is extremely complex. The hardware is difficult to construct and running and using it requires a high level of expertise.

By creating a more robust qubit, Microsoft are enhancing the potential to roll out quantum computing for wider use. Were this to happen, quantum computers would likely be hosted in dedicated data centres which would need to be temperature controlled.

Speaking at the  IEEE International Conference on Rebooting Computing Svore explained that this could help to solve complex chemistry computations and could be used to enhance the efficiency of markets such as farming, transport and logistics.

Potential uses are far reaching. Imagine a machine which can compute data at a speed which we cannot even imagine!

It is coming, and it is quantum.

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