Microsoft has announced plans for building its own quantum supercomputer. In a roadmap published Wednesday, the company says that quantum supercomputers have the power to fix food insecurity and reverse climate change by revolutionising chemistry. There are still several milestones to be reached, including a transition from noisy physical qubits to reliable logical qubits, but once achieved, a quantum machine could “solve the most complex problems facing our society.”
Microsoft believes that the path to quantum computing isn’t unlike the path to today’s classical supercomputers. Taking that into account, the company has listed three major milestones that it’ll need to overcome before programmable quantum supercomputers will be able to solve problems that current computers cannot.
Currently, the development is at the foundational level, with current test machines being built around ‘noisy’ physical qubits that aren’t advantageous enough to solve actual problems. For the uninitiated, qubits are to quantum computing as bits are to standard computers.
Microsoft has brought these machines together (including the likes of IonQ, Pasqal, Quantinuum, QCI, and Rigetti) to Azure Quantum Elements. Azure Quantum Elements is a new service that accelerates scientific discovery by integrating the latest breakthroughs in high-performance computing (HPC).
Once the reliability of individual qubits is improved, quantum computing development will progress to the resilient level. This stage is reached once it’s possible to bundle thousands of physical qubits into a logical qubit. However, this requires the error rates of physical qubits to be below a certain threshold, otherwise, error correction will fail.
Finally, level three is reached when it becomes possible to engineer a scaled, programmable quantum supercomputer that is able to outperform classical supercomputers in problem-solving.
Obviously, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before quantum computers can reach the final level. The first quantum supercomputer will need to deliver an error rate of only one for every trillion operations. Looking back, the pioneers of early computing had to overcome similar obstacles in the transition from vacuum tubes to transistors to integrated circuits.
That said, Microsoft has many rivals in the race for quantum computers, such as IBM and IonQ, who share similar ambitions. But the company may have a slight edge thanks to a major breakthrough it achieved last year. Its team demonstrated the ability to create more stable qubits based on Majorana particles, which use topological insulators to shield themselves from environmental noise.