Microsoft is making significant strides toward the realization of a fault-tolerant quantum supercomputer, bringing us closer to a new era of computing power. With a newly unveiled roadmap, the Microsoft Azure Quantum team outlines the key steps required to achieve this ambitious goal of solving some of the world’s most complex problems.
Pioneering the path to quantum supremacy, Microsoft’s journey begins with the creation of topological qubits, considered essential for robust quantum computing. Unlike other forms of qubits, topological qubits, which leverage Majorana particles in a topological state, are less susceptible to noise and errors. This breakthrough, comparable to the invention of steel during the industrial revolution, paves the way for Microsoft’s quantum revolution, asserts Krysta Svore, Microsoft’s vice president of advanced quantum development.
To unlock the true potential of a quantum supercomputer, Microsoft emphasizes the importance of logical qubits derived from multiple physical qubits. Starting with stable qubits facilitates scalability, requiring fewer physical qubits per logical qubit. Extensive exploration of different qubit types, including spin, transmon, and gatemon, made Microsoft realize that “topological qubits” were indispensable for building a stable and scalable quantum supercomputer. By achieving a breakthrough in physics, Microsoft successfully manipulated matter in a topological state, resulting in more manageable and stable qubits that occupy less space, enabling unprecedented scalability.
Moving forward on the roadmap to quantum supremacy, Microsoft’s next milestone is the creation of “hardware-protected qubits,” or topological qubits embedded with built-in error protection. These qubits must be smaller than 10 microns, allowing a million qubits to fit onto a credit-card-sized chip while maintaining full controllability.
The subsequent stages involve enhancing the quality of hardware-protected qubits to enable entanglement and reduce error rates. Scaling up the number of qubits and integrating them into a programmable Quantum Processing Unit (QPU) follows suit. Lastly, Microsoft focuses on resilience and the development of a novel metric called rQOPS (reliable Quantum Operations Per Second) to monitor quantum computing reliability.
While specific timelines are not disclosed, Microsoft Azure Quantum anticipates completing the entire roadmap within “years, not decades,” hinting at the possibility of witnessing the launch of a quantum supercomputer before the decade’s end.
Microsoft envisions the quantum era unfolding in three stages. The current NISQ (Noisy Intermediate-Scale Quantum) phase represents the starting point, characterized by small-scale, error-prone quantum computers. As quantum systems evolve, reaching the resilience stage becomes crucial, where quantum computations can be reliably performed on stable logical qubits. Finally, quantum supercomputers will scale to levels and capabilities beyond the reach of current and future classical supercomputers.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, envisions a future where a quantum supercomputer compresses 250 years of chemistry and material science progress into the next 25 years, unleashing unprecedented computational power.
Azure Quantum Elements plays a vital role in this vision by combining quantum, AI, and high-performance computing, empowering developers and scientists to accelerate research and development. Certain chemistry simulations have already been accelerated by a staggering 500,000 times, compressing a year’s computation into a mere minute.
Ansgar Schaefer, a vice president at BASF, emphasizes the significance of understanding microscopic chemistry to enhance products and processes. With its AI chemistry models and Copilot, Azure Quantum Elements provides the additional computing capacity needed to advance research approaches and expedite development.
With Copilot integrated into various Microsoft products, including Windows, GitHub, and Microsoft 365, scientists gain the ability to utilize natural language to tackle complex chemistry and materials science problems, revolutionizing the way research is conducted.