The creation of a “reliable and practical” quantum supercomputer could be reached within the next decade, according to researchers at Microsoft.
In an announcement outlining its quantum computing roadmap this week, the tech giant said it has achieved the “first milestone” towards developing next-generation computing capabilities.
Chetan Nayak, technical fellow and corporate VP of quantum hardware at Microsoft, said the firm's ambitions rest on recent advances in the development of ‘topological qubits’.
Microsoft announced last year it had reached a breakthrough with the development of these qubits, which offer far greater reliability and stability compared to traditional techniques.
Harnessing topological qubits, Nayak said the company will be able to develop a quantum supercomputer capable of performing 1 million reliable quantum operations per second (rQOPS), which marks a step change compared to current capabilities.
A peer-reviewed paper published by Microsoft researchers outlines these capabilities, noting that the breakthrough has significant long-term potential.
Quantum development challenges
The announcement follows years of development in the quantum computing space for Microsoft, which Nayak noted has proved challenging in terms of ‘scaling up’ capabilities.
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“A quantum supercomputer must be powered by reliable logical qubits, each of which is formed from many physical qubits. The more stable the physical qubit is, the easier it is to scale up because you need fewer of them,” he said.
“Over the years, Microsoft researchers have fabricated a variety of qubits used in many of today’s NISQ computers, including spin, transmon, and gatemon qubits. However, we concluded that none of these qubits is perfectly suited to scale up.
“That’s why we set out to engineer a brand-new qubit with inherent stability at the hardware level. It has been an arduous development path in the near term because it required that we make a physics breakthrough that has eluded researchers for decades.”
Microsoft’s quantum supercomputer roadmap
Having established a breakthrough, Microsoft said the next phase of its roadmap will focus on several key areas, starting with the development of hardware-protected qubits.
Hardware-protected qubits will have built-in error protection for computation processes, the company said, and will be smaller, faster, and more controllable for reliability.
“This unique qubit will scale to support a reliable qubit, and will enable engineering of a quantum supercomputer,” Nayak wrote. “Each qubit operation will take less than one microsecond. This means problems can be solved in weeks, rather than decades or centuries.”
“Our qubits will be controlled by digital voltage pulses to ensure that a machine with millions of them doesn’t have an excessive error rate or require unattainable input/output bandwidth.”
High-quality hardware-protected qubits, which are the next phase of development on the roadmap, will then help reduce computational error rates.
The development of a ‘multi-qubit system’ is also on the horizon, the company added. This will create a series of quantum algorithms that can be “executed when multiple qubits operate together as a programmable Quantum Processing Unit (QPU) in a full stack quantum machine”.
Longer-term, the goal for Microsoft is to create what it describes as a “resilient quantum system” before finally reaching a fully-operational quantum supercomputer.
This quantum system, the firm said, will be capable of solving “impactful problems even the most powerful classical supercomputers cannot”.
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Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.
He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.