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Microsoft's quantum computing efforts are explained in new video

Microsoft wants to help create a super-computer that will make the ones that are used today look like those old fashioned Casio calculators. Today, the company put a spotlight on its efforts into what is known as quantum computing, via a new feature article and a video.

Microsoft explains that current computers, using its "1" or "0" bits, still can take a long time to solve some certain problems. Enter quantum computing, which is based on the actions of particles at the sub-atomic level.

In the video, Microsoft says that quantum computing uses "qubits" each of which can be either a "1" or a "0" or it can be both at the same time. Yep, particles at the quantum level are wacky like that. The upshot of all this is that a qubit that is both a "1" and a "0" can do two calculations at once. If you get a bunch of qubits working together to solve a problem it should, in theory, take much faster to do so than the standard computer can do today.

Microsoft's feature on the subject centers on its own Station Q division, located on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It also explains why we don't have qubit-based PCs running right now. In short, qubits can be hard to work with:

A bump in temperature, a bit of electricity, a stray cosmic wave, a slight jostle – any sort of interference at all (even an inside job – a distraction from fellow qubits) will cause them to "decohere" from their quantum state, at which point the calculation and information are gone. Scaling enough qubits to be useful, doing so in a stable way, and keeping them from falling apart – these are some of the fundamental challenges of the field.

However, the team at Station Q are trying to come up with a way to make qubits a viable computing platform. If those efforts work, there could be tons of applications for its use in cryptography, chemistry, material research, artificial intelligence and lots more. What do you think of Microsoft's efforts to solve quantum computing issues?

Source: Microsoft (opens in new tab)

78 Comments
  • Don't get the "single qubit can do 2 calculations" part. (How can a qubit calculate? ) Anyone care to explain? :)
  • More accurately, it can be used to do two calculations at once.
  • Basically, in traditional computers, the information is transmitted as "0" and "1" in circuits ("0" means no electrical current, "1" means there is an electric pulse i.e. very short current). The quantum computer is based on quantum states of a particle (molecule, atom, etc etc), which is either at "ground state" "0" (default, no excitation), or "excited state" "1" (higher energy), or both of them (search for Heisenberg uncertainty principle), i.e. for one operation it can behave as "0", for other operation it can behave as "1", so you do 2 things at the same time.   As stated in the article, the quantum computing is VERY VERY VERY unstable, and currently scientists are using systems at ultra low temperatures (e.g. 0.00001 K). I don't see any implementation of quantum computers globally.
  • Didn't watch the video, but one thing worth to mention in the article is that a quantum processor has to be designed for a specific type of calculation. Which makes them irrelevant to average joe, or any business at all. It's more like a calculator that does one single type of equation almost instantaneous. Source of my knowledge: Veritasium http://youtu.be/g_IaVepNDT4
  • Avg joebelfiore? U mean
  • Average human being.
  • As long as that one task is Angry Birds, I think we will be ok.
  • That's true. While I've no idea on what level it's executed on quantum computers, I've studied the Heisenberg's uncertainty principle (we often refer to as HUP) and it works the way you've mentioned. In chemistry, there are only a few exceptional cases about this principle though, not sure about computers.
  • Theoretically, would this be an example of how the Aether theory would apply? Please excuse my ignorance, as I am no physicist.
  • so you do 2 things at the same time.
    But doesnt it mean that work done by one quantum computer, can be done by just two regular computers?
  • Depends how many qubits the processor is. Imagine an 8qubit machine, theoretically it would be able to hold 256 different states simultaneously. (and by extension, an x cubit machine would have 2^x simultaneous states).
  • As stated above, Quantum computers is fast only for 1 type of equation only... And if its only used to do basic Function of everyday laptop (watching movie, Reading book, etc) it may even be slower than a normal computer... A quantum computer execute things by using Less STEPS, not executing each step Faster.
  • There is actually a Quantum computing company called D-Wave that sells these machines and you can find some info there. I knew it in 2013 but i was the only one in the hole internet to care about. But... here it is... http://www.dwavesys.com/
  • I'll pretend I know what qubits are. Then I'll pretend I understood the article past, Microsoft is helping build a super computer.
  • we need ELI5 version
  • its already built check it out here http://www.dwavesys.com/
  • LOL! That figure in the picture reminded me of "Polarization of light" from physics!
  • I hate electromagnetism (the irony is that I'm dealing with laser physics lol).
  • Really? Nothing I enjoy more. (I'm not being sarcastic as much as I sound like it to myself)
  • I do like semiconductor physics. I have a master degree on solar cells growth and I'm doing now a PhD on QW lasers and QD LEDs later, so I'm not dealing so much with polarization ;) My sister did her PhD on some EM, after I read her thesis I realised  - it's not gonna happen to me.
  • Ah I see, a lot of people do. It appears complicated and messy to a lot. Problem is, even I'll have to deal with it for few semesters during my computer science engineering course :p
  • I love electro magnetic induction
  • Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. ME TOO! *squeals*
  • EMI? Yeah I remember self induction, mutual induction, Faraday's law etc... Yet, Optics was my favourite topic in physics of 12th grade. It was really interesting!
  • That reminded me of Flux Capacitor from back to the future.You are the doc MSFT :P
  • As a mater of fact, polarization of a photon is a typixal example os superposition. In a way, it is a qbit
  • qubits, fourbits, sixbits, a dollar!!!...i just had to!...
  • LOL
  • The video is crazy and cool.
  • Huh?? If this video is Quantum Computing 101, I think I need to go back to 001 and catch up.
  • +625
  • I'd like a quantum processor in my windows phone please.
  • Your palm will freeze immediately as you touch the phone ;)
  • But soooo worth it.. Lol
  • Says Fail_Safe.
  • I hope Microsoft's research on quantum computing will help Cortana and Bing improve themselves one day.
  • http://www.dwavesys.com/ <<This company already built it and you can buy it. If you have the money.....  D-Wave has been researching this for ssssooooooo much time.....before microsoft..... and they already launched a version 2 :)
  • What a big scam.. xD If quantum computers where a reality right now, we wouldn't be having this conversation lol
  • One major implication of quantum computers is that they theoretically make security as we know it irrelevant. It effectively like being able to try every password simultaneously. Something I imagine the security agencies and terrorist groups would love to have access to!
  • Also think about the implication in conjunction with our sudden rush to have all our personal data available in the cloud!
  • Quantum computers would also create quantum level encryption so really nothing would change.
  • That's true but you have to remember that Quantum computers would be quite expensive so just because the aforementioned security agencies and terrorist groups could afford it doesn't mean the average person/company could afford it.
  • That's not the same technology. Quantum security does exist, but it's for securing one-one transmission and guarantees that nobody can listen in. It requires a very special way of communicating between two endpoints and it's rather expensive! The fact is, security protocols rely on the fact that traditional computers would take an extremely long time to crack a cryptography key. Quantum computers have no such limitation as they can effectively try all at the same time. The technology is amazing, but also extremely dangerous. In a similar way as atomic physics was in the early 1900s!
  • Anything Microsoft can do to be at the cutting edge
  • Why my comment removed AGAIN
  • Lol, probably because it was off topic ;)
  • The idea of quantum computers is scary and cool at the same time. Image some of the problems we may face. There may be no such thing as data encryption because it can be broken in fractions of a second.
  • Will it increase WP sales?
  • LOL, This kind of stuff sounds beyond WP.  
  • That made me laugh lol
  • Woah, can't believe I actually understood the article....
  • "Mind the gap", "particles gone wild"... I like where this quantum computing stuff is headed.
  • theres a company the sells a quantum computer today, i read that it costs millions and doesnt actually work as a quantum computer should. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25787226
  • D-Wave and here is the site: http://www.dwavesys.com/ welcome to our world. Since now we where like the dark internet to a 5 year old. I`ve waited for this day to come. :D
  • D-wave is not a quantum computer. Not by the definition. It's complicated, but D-wave isn't actually processing calculations simultaneously, as opposed to subsequently as a classical computer does.
  • It's fascinating research and an endeavor the teaches as much from the journey as the discovery. Sorry just excited by the possibilities.
  • "Me Gusta" - Schrödinger's cat
  • ....but they can't figure out a music app.
  • How about qubox music?
  • For those having a problem understand Quibits... Here's an analogy: Skype for Windows Phone functions like a Qubit.  It can do 2 actions at the same time.  If you make a call, then state 1: Appears to make a call. State 2: No call is being made.  Making a call and not making a call at the same time is a Qubit like action.
  • Some people will do anything to generate bitcoins...
  • Getting closer and closer to the Singularity. One of the only things on this planet that scares me.
  • Beware the black hole? :)
  • AI singularity. The moment when a machine becomes self-aware.
  • nice animations
  • Computers are like car engines. They look complicated when you open them up, but are simple at the smallest level. Just different parts for different situations... Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • Only as long as you don't go so small as to introduce quantum affects, which is when things can get quite complicated. If you don't go that small, then everything is simple at that "almost" smallest level... no matter what it is.
  • Brains are like car engines. They look complicated when you open them up, but are simple at the smallest level. Just different parts for different situations...
  • Of course, what MS fail to mention is that quantum computing is not suitable for general calculations. The quantum computer is not proven to be faster than a desktop PC at calculations (yet). Instead, they're more suitable for calculations that require finding the shortest route or path of a problem. The reason that a quantum computer is slow in this aspect is due to what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance". Each particle has a partner, interfering with one interferes with the other, and vice versa. Quantum computers suffer so much from this interference is the reason that they in all likelihood will never better traditional computing, despite what Microsoft say. And MS clearly want to look good.
  • Im afraid that you are wrong. With only one core the QComputer has 232% performance per watt than a regular Supercomputer and not only is more efficient but is also faster. Just think of the scalability with 2-4-8-16-32-etc cores in the future. Take this: if an algorithmic task takes a Supercomputer a day to complete, a Quantum Computer will take an hour or less, even seconds, with not so much power consumption, MINDBLOWING. BTW im going to University to study Informatics Engineering which is all the computing basics...and im afraid that by the time i will finish it it will be already obsolete as we will hear more and more about quantum phisics involving computing. But in the end these are interesting times for history to be written. Cheers!
  • Hi, I just wanted to make something clear: a qbit is not in 0-1 or a state in the middle nor it can be used for two calculations (I understand this was a simplification). A qbit exists in a superposition of both 0 and 1. This means that when you measure it, it can be either 1 or 0 with certain probability, but while you don't measure it, it is both things at the same time. In that context if you had 8 qbits, you would have a system that is in all 256 states at the same time. This property is very useful to solve algorithms that grow very fast when the amount of bits involved grows (take for example looking for a certain piece of data in a large data set or deciphering a password). For the data example, a traditional computer needs to look in each memory address one by one to find the correct value, a quantum computer can look at all the positions at the same time. The output of the algorithm will have a large probability of being the address of the data you were looking for (even if it is not,the algorithm can be iterated to produce larger probabilities and in only a few iterations you would get the result). If anyone is interested, a course on quatum computers is available from EdX (https://www.edx.org/course/uc-berkeleyx/uc-berkeleyx-cs-191x-quantum-mechanics-1033#.U9GHdvldW6w) that discusses this (I did it and it is great!). By the way, D-Wave (a company located in Canada) already has a quantum computer working (although there are some discussions around it).
  • This clarification should be added to the article!  Thanks F Paz!    
  • Man, this is so deep I didn't get 95% of it.
  • While I am still trying to understand more about quantum physics, Microsoft is already doing this. Cool.
  • Is this to rival Big Brother IBM's Watson? They should name this Quantum Computing thingie Sherlock. :)  
  • Moar GAMING!
  • This was actually more confusing then anything else.
  • The answer is here: If you believe "you can", therefore You can.