April 10, 2015

Microsoft is in a superposition to change the world

MIT's technology review just published this excellent article on the state of Microsoft's mission to build a quantum computer. This one is definitely worth your time. Check it out in full here; http://www.technologyreview.com/photoessay/531606/microsofts-quantum-mechanics/

In 2012, physicists in the Netherlands announced a discovery in particle physics that started chatter about a Nobel Prize. Inside a tiny rod of semiconductor crystal chilled cooler than outer space, they had caught the first glimpse of a strange particle called the Majorana fermion, finally confirming a prediction made in 1937. It was an advance seemingly unrelated to the challenges of selling office productivity software or competing with Amazon in cloud computing, but Craig Mundie, then heading Microsoft’s technology and research strategy, was delighted. The abstruse discovery—partly underwritten by Microsoft—was crucial to a project at the company aimed at making it possible to build immensely powerful computers that crunch data using quantum physics. “It was a pivotal moment,” says Mundie. “This research was guiding us toward a way of realizing one of these systems.”


Microsoft has yet to even build a qubit. But in the kind of paradox that can be expected in the realm of quantum physics, it may also be closer than anyone else to making quantum computers practical. The company is developing a new kind of qubit, known as a topological qubit, based largely on that 2012 discovery in the Netherlands. There’s good reason to believe this design will be immune from the flakiness plaguing existing qubits. It will be better suited to mass production, too. “What we’re doing is analogous to setting out to make the first transistor,” says Peter Lee, Microsoft’s head of research.


In the next year or so, physics labs supported by Microsoft will begin testing crucial pieces of its qubit design, following a blueprint developed by an outdoorsy math genius. If those tests work out, a corporation widely thought to be stuck in computing’s past may unlock its future.

Stranger still: a physicist at the fabled but faded Bell Labs might get there first.

read on: http://www.technologyreview.com/photoessay/531606/microsofts-quantum-mechanics/

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