Microsoft Discusses Its Quantum Computing Projects at MS Ignite 2017

Microsoft made some pretty big statements Monday about its in-progress quantum computing projects. At MS Ignite 2017, speakers discussed plans to create a “topological qubit” and the release of a new quantum computer programming language and computing simulator, which Microsoft will make available via Visual Studio. The video above doesn’t include all the topics, but it covers Microsoft’s ambition for its quantum computer in under three minutes.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, also announced a new Microsoft cloud computing platform and quantum computer:

A quantum computer that enables you to encode information–not just a one or a zero, but a one and a zero together–unlocks massive parallelism. It could take every path in the maze simultaneously. That’s the power of quantum.”

“The Only Thing I Care About is Making the Computer Work.”

It’s Microsoft’s unique approach to building a quantum computer that intrigues many in the field. Roughly 20 years ago, an American mathematician named Michael Freedman joined Microsoft’s theoretical research group. A bona fide math genius, Freedman conducted research in a branch of math called topology. Now Freedman’s work in topology is driving Microsoft’s efforts to create a “topological qubit” and a working, scalable quantum computer. But does Freedman care what people use his computer for?

Based on this quote, it’s the creation process that consumes his focus.

“I’ve been asked about the applications of quantum computing. You know, what motivates me? Do I want to cure disease, design new materials, protect the environment?” he said. “The truth is, it’s none of that. At this point in the project, the only thing I care about is making the quantum computer work.”

I find that both thrilling and scary. We (humans) have a habit of doing a thing because we can, without stopping to ask if we should. Still, it’s exciting. And this type of focus is exactly what’s needed at this point in the industry’s growth curve. Either way, Microsoft is clearly doing some of the coolest work in quantum computing to date.