Microsoft’s Todd Holmdahl is heading up the effort to engineer scalable quantum hardware and software.


Microsoft has been on a quest to build the holy grail of computers for over a decade, dumping tons of money into researching quantum computing and the company says they are ready to transition over to the engineering phase of their endeavor. At least that’s what MS executive Todd Holmdahl aims to accomplish by developing the hardware and software to do so.


Like most cutting-edge tech development, nothing is set in stone and more often than not failure is a big part of the effort, something Todd is well aware of considering he was the person who spearheaded the Xbox, Kinect and HoloLens. As head of the team to bring about a scalable form of quantum computer, Todd is partnering with some of more renowned researchers in the quantum field including Leo Kouwenhoven (Delft University of Technology professor) and Charles Marcus (Niels Bohr Institute professor), both of which received funding from Microsoft to research theoretical topological qubit computing.



It’s all in the anyon braids, which form the logic gates that theoretically make quantum computing possible. (via MS)


To bring their quantum computer into reality, Todd and his team are turning to quasiparticles known as anyons, which will form the logic gates needed to perform computations. The problem with quasiparticles is that they are extremely unstable and tend to disintegrate in a matter of milliseconds shortly after being formed. Anyons by themselves exist in two dimensions and exhibit both an on and off state at the same time, however to make them stable and suitable for use in computing a third dimension is needed.


Hence the braiding, which is done by rotating the worldliness of a pair of anyons, which can’t be merged and therefore form a stable state and act as a logic gate. The team has already started to braid these anyons in the hopes of creating those logic gates that form the basis for quantum computing. Since the particles can exist in two states they can theoretically double the amount of computing power exponentially- so if one is capable of doing two calculations and two can perform four (and so on), imagine what a billion (or the equivalent amount of transistors found in today’s CPUs) can do!


On the software side, the team is working on trying to frame the software necessary to accompany topological quantum computing. So far, they have developed a series of tools to help them simulate a quantum computer in order to get a better understanding. The language they used to build the tools is called LIQUi|> (Language-Integrated Quantum Operations) with the characters at the end denoting how operations are written in math terms. The team hopes that using LIQUi|> will help pave the road to build the algorithms that can take advantage of quantum computers.


While they are making strides in their lofty endeavor, it will still be a ways off before quantum computing will come to fruition. My guess is that it will be another 10 to 20 years before they can produce a physical working model and probably several more before they can be manufactured on a larger scale. Still, it is exciting to see that we’re on the cusp of harnessing a computational power that used to be thought of a science fiction.


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