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Microsoft CEO touts quantum computing platform

Satya Nadella at Ignite
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduces the company’s new initiatives in quantum computing at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. (Microsoft Video)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella today took the wraps off Azure Quantum, a full-stack, cloud-based approach to quantum computing that he said would play well with traditional computational architectures.

“With all the capacity we have around computing, we still have many unsolved problems, whether it’s around food safety, or climate change, or the energy transition,” Nadella said at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla. “These are big challenges that need more computing. We need general-purpose quantum.”

While classical computers deal in binary bits of ones and zeroes, quantum computers can take advantage of spooky physics to process quantum bits — or qubits — that can represent multiple values simultaneously.

For years, Microsoft and its rivals have been laying the groundwork for general-purpose quantum computing hardware and software. Microsoft has previously announced some elements of its strategy, including its Q# programming language and Quantum Development Kit, but today Nadella put all the pieces together.

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Google’s ‘quantum supremacy’ feat earns respect

Quantum computing chip
The Sycamore processor is at the heart of Google’s quantum computing project. (Google Photo / Erik Lucero)

Word that a Google-led team of researchers had achieved “quantum supremacy” with a new type of computer chip leaked out weeks ago, but today’s publication of the team’s study in the journal Nature gave outsiders their first good look at what was done. And most of them were impressed.

There were the usual caveats, of course: The project focused on a specific problem in random number generation that’s doesn’t relate directly to everyday applications, and it could be years before the technology behind Google AI Quantum’s Sycamore chip becomes commercially available.

Nevertheless, the computational demonstration provided evidence that quantum computers can do some tasks far more quickly than classical computers.

“This is an exciting scientific achievement for the quantum industry, and another step on a long journey towards a scalable, viable quantum future,” Microsoft, one of Google’s competitors in the realm of quantum computing, said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.

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Weapons lab likes D-Wave’s next quantum system

D-Wave computer
A team member at D-Wave Systems, based in Burnaby, B.C.,, works on the dilution refrigerator system that cools the processors in the company’s quantum computer. (D-Wave Systems Photo)

D-Wave Systems says its next-generation, 5,000-qubit quantum computing system will be called Advantage, to recognize the business advantage it hopes its customers will derive from the company’s products and services.

The Burnaby, B.C.-based company also announced that Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has signed a contract to upgrade to Advantage on its premises once it’s ready to go. Advantage-based computing is due to become available via D-Wave’s Leap quantum cloud service in mid-2020.

“This is the third time we will have upgraded our D-Wave system,” Irene Qualters, associate lab director for simulation and computation at Los Alamos, said today in a news release. “Each upgrade has enabled new research into developing quantum algorithms and new tools in support of Los Alamos’ national security mission.”

The lab’s national security mission includes keeping the nation’s nuclear weapons up to date — and checking their safety and potency using methods that include computer simulations.

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U.S. officials seek advice on quantum computing

Quantum computer component
Components for IBM’s quantum computer are on display at a science conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking for experts to guide the White House and federal agencies through the weird world of quantum information science.

Today’s solicitation seeks nominations to the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, a panel that gets its mandate from legislation that President Donald Trump signed into law last December.

In addition to calling for the establishment of the advisory committee, the National Quantum Initiative Act sets aside $1.2 billion over five years to support research, development and workforce training relating to quantum information science.

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What will quantum computing do for us?

Microsoft researchers
Microsoft’s Krysta Svore and David Reilly work on hardware for a quantum computer. (Microsoft Photo)

Quantum computer scientist Krysta Svore has a dream.

In her dream, she arrives at the week’s Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit at the University of Washington in a self-driving car that uses quantum computation to sharpen the precision of its GPS readings and optimize its route through traffic. “So I got here faster than I ever have before,” Svore said.

“I paid with my quantum credit card, which I know no one has stolen, because it’s fully secure,” she said  “On the way, I looked outside, and the air was crisp and clear. We have more carbon being extracted from the atmosphere. We have cleaner energy solutions. In fact, the country was just rewired with room-temperature superconducting cable, so we have lossless power transmission across the United States.”

In Svore’s dream, quantum computers have optimized the routes for transmitting that power, and have also come up with the chemistry for super-efficient storage batteries, turning solar and wind power into always-available electricity. “All of this is leading to a lower power bill for me,” she said.

Svore dreams of quantum technologies that can design new drugs on the molecular scale, map distant black holes with incredible precision and create new types of games that will help the next generation get used to how the weird world of quantum physics works.

“This was my dream last night,” Svore said. “The world was different. It was quantum. But in fact, this dream is here. The world is quantum. And it’s in our hands today to create this dream, to create it here in the Northwest.”

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Senator talks quantum with Microsoft’s president

Sen. Maria Cantwell and Microsoft's Brad Smith
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Microsoft President Brad Smith discuss the challenge of quantum computing during a fireside chat at the Northwest Quantum Nexus Summit at the University of Washington. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The Pacific Northwest may be known for tech icons like Microsoft and Amazon  but when U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was asked what advice she’d give to the researchers and executives who are trying to up their game when it comes to quantum computing, she invoked a slogan used by a totally different kind of industry leader.

“To borrow from another Northwest icon, ‘Just Do It,’ ” she said, referring to Nike, the Oregon-based sportswear powerhouse.

During today’s fireside chat with Microsoft President Brad Smith at the kickoff summit of a public-private consortium called the Northwest Quantum Nexus, Cantwell said quantum computing could become as much a part of the Pacific Northwest’s tech scene as Boeing and Microsoft, Amazon and Blue Origin.

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Northwest pioneers team up on quantum frontier

PNNL reasearchers
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to employ quantum computing to develop new materials for chemical applications. (Microsoft Azure via YouTube)

Experts in the weird and woolly field of quantum computing tend to concentrate on one slice of the challenge, whether it’s developing hardware, algorithms or applications — but in the region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, the University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a new consortium is going after the whole stack.

We’re not talking about pancakes or sandwiches here. We’re talking about the Northwest Quantum Nexus, which is aiming to widen a network of quantum connections for researchers, developers and business leaders. The group, led by Microsoft Quantum, PNNL and UW, was formally unveiled today in advance of its inaugural summit this week at the university.

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One giant leap for Microsoft Quantum Network

Quantum computer
Microsoft is focusing on the development of quantum computers that take advantage of cryogenically cooled nanowires. (Microsoft Photo)

REDMOND, Wash. — Quantum computing may still be in its infancy — but the Microsoft Quantum Network is all grown up, fostered by in-house developers, research affiliates and future stars of the startup world.

The network made its official debut today here at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, during a Startup Summit that laid out the company’s vision for quantum computing and introduced network partners to Microsoft’s tools of the quantum trade.

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Trump signs bill to boost quantum computing

Quantum computer
IBM Research scientist Jerry Chow conducts a quantum computing experiment at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (Feature Photo Service for IBM / Jon Simon)

President Donald Trump today signed legislation ramping up quantum computing research and development.

The National Quantum Initiative Act (H.R. 6227) authorizes $1.2 billion over five years for federal activities aimed at boosting investment in quantum information science, or QIS, and supporting a quantum-smart workforce.

The law also establishes a National Quantum Coordination Office, calls for the development of a five-year strategic plan and establishes an advisory committee to advise the White House on issues relating to quantum computing.

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New crypto needed for quantum computing age

Quantum computing report
A new report from the National Academies says it’ll be at least a decade before quantum computing becomes powerful enough to crack today’s public-key cryptography, but it could also take that long to develop a new data-encoding system to protect against hacking. (National Academies Illustration)

new report from computer scientists estimates that it’s likely to be at least a decade before quantum computing tools become powerful enough to compromise the current system of public-key cryptography that serves as the foundation for data security and financial transactions.

But it could also take a decade or more to replace current crypto tools with new protocols that would be resistant to quantum hacking, according to the report, published today by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Therefore, the report’s authors say, it’s urgent to begin the transition toward such “post-quantum” protocols — which can range from increasing the size of encryption keys to developing new lattice-based systems such as NewHope and Frodo.

The study was sponsored by the federal Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and meshes with policy strategies laid out in September during a White House quantum information science summit. Like the White House strategy document, the National Academies study points out that the rise of quantum computing will have deep implications for national security.

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