Quantum Computing is the new frontier of computational research; Microsoft now wants to bring the technology at a point where it is no longer studying it, but engineering it – perfect the quantum computer, to be scaleable.
Microsoft Research – Microsoft’s R&D division – have been researching quantum computers for quite a few years; the research lab located on the University of California campus in Santa Barbara – aptly named Station Q – is a dedicated lab just for quantum research.
The Quantum Puzzle
Several organizations have been trying to build a quantum computer – and they have, Google has been researching one along with NASA for the past few years, and have managed to build a functioning prototype; the trouble with a quantum computer, though, is its complexity.
The concept of quantum computing itself is quite mind-boggling – Microsoft has made a quick video to summarize what quantum computing is all about, and while it explains the basics, it doesn’t really tell us how any of it is possible.
Quantum computing requires a merger of two extremely complex fields – computer science, and quantum physics – as the video explains; Microsoft is hiring some of the most exceptional people from the fields of quantum physics, quantum computing, and computational physics.
Microsoft, being the tech giant that it is, already has the best talent for computer science; Microsoft’s Tom Holmdahl has been with the company for more than 12 years – he will now be leading the scientific and engineering efforts to create a scalable quantum hardware and software platform.
Holmdahl has a history of turning concepts and research projects at Microsoft into commercial products – he has previously worked on the Xbox, HoloLens, and Kinect.
“I think we’re at an inflection point in which we are ready to go from research to engineering,” Holmdahl says as the Corporate Vice President of Microsoft’s quantum program.
Microsoft is also hiring two leaders from the field of quantum computing – Professor Leo Kouwenhoven and Professor Charles Marcus.
Leo Kouwenhoven is a distinguished professor at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and was the founding director of QuTech – an advanced research center on quantum technologies.
Charles Marcus is the Villum Kann Rasmussen Professor at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, and director of the Centre for Quantum Devices, sponsored by the Danish National Research Foundation.
The two professors have been collaborating with Microsoft’s quantum program team for the past years; once they join Microsoft, they will retain their academic titles and remain with their host universities – Microsoft will be opening dedicated quantum labs at their respective universities.
The new team is also bringing a couple of new collaborators on board – Professor Matthias Troyer and Professor David Reilly.
Matthias Troyer is a professor of computational physics at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland. His area of expertise ranges from testing of quantum devices to development of software for quantum computers.
David Reilly, on the other hand, is an experimental physicist, professor, and director of the Centre for Quantum Machines at the University of Sydney in Australia. He leads his own team of engineers and physicists, researching the challenges of scaling up quantum systems.
Microsoft is putting together a team of engineers with different expertise, scientists and physicists with specialized expertise, researchers dedicated to quantum computing, technicians to develop quantum systems, and programmers who can develop software for these quantum systems.
It is an incredible effort – the goal is to build a system that can solve complex problems efficiently, and is scalable while doing so.
Turning the quantum computer into a commercial product is, of course, the end goal – it might not end up in every smartphone, but it will have an incredible impact on cloud computation and artificial intelligence.
You can read more about the Microsoft effort, and the quantum research team on Microsoft’s official blog.