Microsoft has announced the formation of its Quantum Network in an effort to develop the world’s first scalable quantum computer and quantum applications.
The Network, which was announced during Microsoft’s Startup Summit, is a community which brings together various universities, suppliers, enterprise organisations and start-ups to grow this futuristic segment. It might seem like an unconceivable concept right now, but CEO Satya Nadella has seemingly developed a culture which will not allow Microsoft to sit still, a problem which brought about the dark days of the noughties.
“The Microsoft Quantum Network is our commitment to establishing the partnerships required to build the quantum workforce and the quantum economy,” said Todd Holmdahl, Corporate VP of Azure Hardware Systems Group at Microsoft (pictured). “We believe both are vital to solving some of the world’s toughest problems.”
Of course, Microsoft is not the only competitor in the race to create scalable quantum computing services and products. IBM Q was one of the first industry initiatives to focus on the segment, while Google has created its own division known as AI Quantum. AWS has hinted it will be getting involved before too long, praising the National Quantum Initiative Act in a blog post, though nothing official has emerged just yet. And it’s not just the tech superpowers, Bleximo and ColdQuanta are two companies which received seed funding in 2018.
A classical computer has a memory made up of bits, where each bit is represented by either a one or a zero, however quantum computing maintains a sequence of qubits, which can represent a one, a zero, or any quantum superposition of those two qubit states. The simplest way of explaining this is by imagining a sphere.
In classical computing, a bit can be represented by the poles of the sphere, with zero representing the south pole and one representing the north, but in Quantum computing, any point of the sphere can be used to represent any point. This is achieved through a concept called superposition, which means ‘Qbits’ can be represented by a one or a zero, or both at the same time. For example, two qubits in a single superposition could represent four different scenarios.
Although this is an incredibly simplistic description of the science, it will allow computers to store, analyse and transfer information significantly more efficiently. Each year, the volume of data we consume is growing astronomically, driving the need for such computational power.
While this does sound incredibly beneficial for the world, what is worth noting is this is a segment in its very early days. Progress has been made in creating these supercomputers, though it is far from being perfected, and scalability is nothing more than a distant dream right now. The main problem, aside from incredibly difficult science, seems to be maintaining stability of the machines. Incredibly cold temperatures are needed, while even slight vibrations can cause disruptions.
Eventually, quantum computers will be able to solve complex mathematics problems at speeds which are inconceivable in today’s world. This will become increasingly important in areas such as security, with end-to-end encryption technologies reliant on the concept of it being impossible to solve equations in an efficient enough manner. Should nefarious individuals get their hands on the technology, the currently unbreakable codes would be vulnerable.
Just to demonstrate the power of quantum computing, back in 2015, Google announced it had developed a supercomputer which was more than more than 108 times faster than what was considered classical computing at the time. Computational power has increased in the four years since, but the sheer chasm between classical and quantum is clear.
It might sound like a risk, but on the other hand, cryptography could benefit from this technology significantly. Quantum-based cryptographic systems would be much more secure than what we would consider the norm.
This euphoria will not replace classical computing, as there will always be simplistic usecases such as spreadsheets or email for example, but there are hordes of more complex scenarios which could benefit from quantum computing. The sciences could hugely benefit, as well as more everyday usecases such as scheduling flight runway activities at airports.
Of course, for any of the futuristic ideas to be considered there needs to be scalability. This is one of the main objectives of this Microsoft, bringing quantum computing to the masses quicker than competitors. The technology might sound decades off, but as Bill Gates said; “most overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten”.