Two of the world’s largest technology companies, Google and Microsoft, are set to announce major quantum breakthroughs in February 2018.

Todd Holmdahl, head of Microsoft’s quantum team, told the Financial Times that the team is “imminently close” to producing its own unique quantum computing chip. Holmdahl claims this could be “an important moment for science” and could see the tech firm speed away from the competition.

Google, in turn, is expected to announce its own breakthrough in the coming weeks; the demonstration of its quantum processor solving a more difficult problem than any classical computer has to date.

Microsoft Announcement

Whilst other companies have been working on qubits for years, such as IBM, Microsoft’s version is a departure from the normal approach. Qubits are exceptionally fragile and difficult to keep in their quantum states for more than a few milliseconds. This makes it impossible to to carry out calculations using them for any prolonged length of time. In turn quantum machines require extensive error correction.

However, the big news is that Microsoft’s version of the qubit “effectively fragments electrons” so the same piece of information can be held in multiple places at the same time. 

This is called fault tolerance and is a major topic for scientists working within quantum computing. Researchers say it will far in overcoming the main difficulties working with qubits, and pave the way towards fully functioning quantum computers that will achieve the gold standard of “quantum supremacy”.

Major Quantum Computing Breakhroughts

  • 2011 – D-WAVE launch first commercial quantum computer that can tackle narrow problems

  • May 2016 – IBM allows companies to experiemnt with its first quantum computer in 5-qubit machine

  • April 2017 – Google reveals plans for ‘quantum supremacy’ by the end of the year [still waiting on scientific publication]

  • January 2018 – IBM unveils 50 Qubit prototype in Las Vegas

Quantum Supremacy

Simon Benjamin, a quantum theorist at Oxford University, working in the UK National Quantum Technology Hub, explained quantum supremacy:

“Quantum supremacy should really be called quantum inimitability, meaning it can’t be copied. 50 qubits will give you a system so large in terms of its quantum complexity that no conventional supercomputer, no Google server or Amazon cloud facility, can actually predict what it could do.”

Google believes it has reached this level of quantum supremacy, with its 49-qubit system. The company carried out a test at the end of 2017, however the details of the outcome have not been released yet. Benjamin told Verdict that quantum is exciting, but “also very, very hard”.

He revealed: “In two years we will be at a more exciting stage than we are now, but it will take a long time to reach a more mature stage in the technology.”

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References: FT, CBR