Microsoft mavens promise proper quantum computer in 10 years

Hybrid approach could cut corners

Shot of D-Wave's 16 qubit chip

Researchers at Microsoft's quantum computing division have published a paper claiming that a new approach could bring about practical working systems within a decade.

"We show that by using a hybrid quantum-classical algorithm that incorporates the power of a small quantum computer into a framework of classical embedding algorithms, the electronic structure of complex correlated materials can be efficiently tackled using a quantum computer," the researchers state.

"In our approach, the quantum computer solves a small effective quantum impurity problem that is self-consistently determined via a feedback loop between the quantum and classical computation."

The approach has been developed for materials simulation and the Microsoft team proposes using a classical computer system to take some of the algorithmic load. Standard computers are capable of handling non-interacting electron and self-consistency problems on their own, and this would allow a 100-qubit quantum computer to tackle the really hard stuff.

The benefit of this is that it brings the cost of building a working quantum computer down to reasonable levels, the paper claims. A purely quantum system would be too expensive to do the job on its own.

But wait a minute; don't we already have quantum computers? After all, D-Wave says it has a 1,000-qubit chip ready to go this summer, and Google and NASA have signed up to buy one.

D-Wave's quantum credentials have been challenged, however, not least by one of the authors of the new paper, Matthias Troyer. Last January, Troyer set the Schrodinger's cat among the quantum pigeons, with research showing D-Wave's computers weren't up to snuff.

The research showed that while D-Wave was up to ten times faster than a classical computer in some functions, in others it was a lot slower. The company replied that the benchmarking tests were not suitable for its machines.

Whether or not Microsoft can get a working quantum computer up and running using this hybrid method remains to be seen. In the meantime, D-Wave is the best we've got so far. ®

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