Microsoft just hit a big milestone in quantum computing
Last week, Microsoft announced that it had made a major breakthrough in quantum computing. The company says its researchers have, for the first time, demonstrated the conditions needed to produce the elusive form of qubit upon which its quantum dreams are based: topological qubits.
The research was announced in Santa Barbara at Microsoft’s Q Station, where researchers have gathered to discuss topological phases and quantum computing over the past 16 years. Microsoft said:
Building on two decades of scientific research and recent investments in simulation and fabrication, the Azure Quantum team has designed devices that allow them to induce a topological phase of matter bounded by a pair of modes Majorana zero. These quantum excitations do not normally exist in nature and must be made to appear under incredibly precise conditions.
Qubits..? — It’s not the disgraced and short-lived Quibi streaming app, or the characteristic croaking of a frog, but a basic unit of quantum information. Microsoft has just improved its ability to maintain these quantum bits.
Just as the “bit” is the fundamental unit of information in classical computing, the “qubit” is the fundamental unit of information in quantum computing. But here’s the difference: bits exist in a binary, “on” or “off”, 0 or 1. Qubits, however, can be much more complex for reasons related to how things can both exist like particle and as a wave. Computers have made sense of bits, but if we can make sense of states of qubitswe can use them to send more complex information than just 0 or 1. Essentially, when you can fit more data into a smaller packet, you should be able to speed up the computation.
In another article on the breakthrough, Microsoft explained:
[The quantum team] has developed a process that layers semiconductor and superconductor materials onto a device in an extremely controlled and atomically precise manner. In the presence of specific magnetic fields and voltages, the devices can produce a topological phase with a pair of Majorana zero modes – characterized by telltale energy signatures that will appear at each end of a nanowire under the right conditions – and a topological gap measurable.
And after? — While quantum computing is still in its infancy, it has already outstripped classical computing on certain algorithms such as Shors’ algorithm which finds the prime factors of an integer. This is important because modern cryptography (which is used to secure your online banking, for example) is based on the idea that factoring large numbers is very, very difficult. In general, the exact use cases for quantum computers are not well known.
The road to advanced quantum computing is a long one, but this recent breakthrough allows researchers to better send and receive information through the complex and superimposed values in qubits.
“We found that we could produce the topological superconducting phase and its attendant Majorana zero modes, thereby removing a significant barrier to building a quantum machine at scale,” said Microsoft’s Dr. Chetan Nayak. “It proves the key aspects of this elusive physics and now it’s full steam ahead towards the topological qubit,” he added in a press release.
“There is no longer a fundamental obstacle to producing a topological qubit,” said Microsoft engineer Lauri Sainiemi.