When one of the first personal computers, the Altair 8800 came along in 1976, Microsoft was ready with a programming language, Altair BASIC. It wants to be equally prepared when quantum computers go mainstream, so it has unveiled a ne programming language and other tools for the futuristic tech at its Ignite conference. You'll still need to understand Qubits and other weird concepts, but by integrating traditional languages like C# and Python, Microsoft will make it easier to do mainstream computing on the complex machines. Quantum computing is famously difficult to grasp -- even IBM's "Beginner's Guide" is laughingly opaque. In discussing Microsoft's new initiatives, Bill Gates called the physics "hieroglyphics," and when asked if he could describe it in one sentence, Satya Nadella said "I don't think so.
At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today put its stake in the ground and discussed its progress in building a quantum computer and giving developers tools to experiment with this new computing paradigm on their existing machines. There's a lot to untangle here, and few people will claim that they understand the details of quantum computing. What Microsoft has done, though, is focus on a different aspect of how quantum computing can work -- and that may just allow it to get a jump on IBM, Google and other competitors that are also looking at this space. The main difference between what Microsoft is doing is that its system is based on advances in topology that the company previously discussed. Most of the theoretical work behind this comes from Fields Medal-recipient Michael Freedman, who joined Microsoft Research in 1997, and his team.
Microsoft today shared plans to release an open cloud quantum computing service in private preview. A partnership with the startup IonQ announced today will enable developers to use existing Microsoft products -- like Visual Studio or the Quantum Development Kit -- along with quantum computers. The news follows recent breakthroughs in quantum computing from IBM Research and Google, who announced on October 23 that it achieved quantum supremacy with the 54-qubit Sycamore processor. Quantum computing is based on quantum physics. Quantum computers run on quantum bits or qubits, and when qubits are maintained in a cold state they can scale high-performance computation in a way that's hard to achieve today with traditional supercomputers.
To the untrained eye, a circuit built with IBM's online Quantum Experience tool looks like something out of an introductory computer-science course. Logic gates, the building blocks of computation, are arrayed on a digital canvas, transforming inputs into outputs. But this is a quantum circuit, and the gates modify not the usual binary 1 or 0 bits, but qubits, the fundamental unit of quantum computing. Unlike binary bits, qubits can exist as a'superposition' of both 1 and 0, resolving one way or the other only when measured. Quantum computing also exploits properties such as entanglement, in which changing the state of one qubit also changes the state of another, even at a distance. Those properties empower quantum computers to solve certain classes of problem more quickly than classical computers.