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Microsoft Spends Big to Build a Computer Out of Science Fiction


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Todd Holmdahl of Microsoft

Todd Holmdahl will direct Microsoft's quantum computing efforts.

Credit: Ian C. Bates / The New York Times

Microsoft is dedicating significant funding and manpower to its efforts related to quantum computing. Microsoft's decision to move on from pure research to a legitimate effort to build a working prototype highlights a global competition among technology companies to develop the world's first quantum computing system.

However, Microsoft has chosen a different path than its competitors in the quest for quantum computing technologies. Microsoft's approach is based on "braiding" particles known as anyons, which exist in just two dimensions, to form the building blocks of a supercomputer based on subatomic particles. However, researchers acknowledge barriers still remain to building practical quantum machines, including those at the level of basic physics and in developing new kinds of software to exploit the qualities of quantum bits (qubits). Microsoft researcher Todd Holmdahl says the company is close to designing the basic qubit building block and it is ready to begin building a complete computer. "Once we get the first qubit figured out, we have a road map that allows us to go to thousands of qubits in a rather straightforward way," Holmdahl says.

The Microsoft approach, known as topological quantum computing, follows scientific advances made in the last two years that give its scientists confidence the company will be able to create more stable qubits.

From The New York Times
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