Microsoft has hired several of the world’s foremost quantum computing experts, doubling down on the effort to build a machine that could solve complex problems much more quickly than a digital computer.
Microsoft hardware guru Todd Holdmdahl will lead a research team focused on using a unit of quantum information called a topological qubit to create scalable quantum hardware and software.
The team will include physicists Leo Kouwenhoven of Delft University of Technology, Charles Marcus of the University of Copenhagen, ETH Zurich’s Matthias Troyer and David Reilly of the University of Sydney.
Unlike digital computers, quantum computers would have the ability to process multiple solutions to a problem simultaneously rather than sequentially, potentially speeding up scientific quests to combat climate change and feed the world’s population, among other goals.
“There is a real opportunity to apply these computers to things that I’ll call material sciences of physical systems,” Holmdahl said in a Microsoft blog post. “A lot of these problems are intractable on a classical computer, but on a quantum computer we believe that they are tractable in a reasonable period of time.”
While the qubits that quantum computers could run on are notoriously finicky–requiring very cold environments with minimum intereference to retain their quantum state–Microsoft’s researchers believe that topological qubits will be more tolerant to outside inputs like heat and electrical noise.
At the same time as it’s been working to build a quantum computer, Microsoft has also supported development of the software that would run on such a system. Last year, one of the company’s computer scientists released to GitHub a suite of tools called Language-Integrated Quantum Operations, or LIQUi|>, which allows developers to simulate a quantum computer’s capabilities.
Microsoft isn’t the only tech company in this race. Google has also invested heavily in quantum computing, with some in the science press speculating that the search engine giant could unveil a functioning, large-scale quantum computer as early as next year.
While the field is still in its infancy, researchers believe that quantum computing could represent a major breakthrough in computational power, leading to a smarter, faster cloud and other advances we can’t foresee today.