The future is quantum: Microsoft releases free preview of Quantum Development Kit

Microsoft releases Quantum Development Kit along with the Q# programming language

Call it a way of getting ahead of everyone else, because that's kind of what Microsoft is now offering, releasing a preview of its Quantum Development Kit including the Q# programming language, built specifically to handle quantum computing.

Microsoft says this could include breakthroughs in artificial intelligence to get computers to recognise things, with language and image recognition possible, while the idea of quantum teleportation makes it possible for data to appear at the exact same time as something else, potentially speeding computers up immeasurably.

Holmdahl, who led development of the Xbox and the company's HoloLens goggles, said Microsoft will have a quantum computer on the market within five years. Microsoft deeply integrated the dev kit into Visual Studio, making it familiar to people already developing applications in other programming languages. The local version can simulate around 30 logical qubits of power using a typical laptop. This will enable developers to debug quantum code and test programs on small instances right on their PCs.

Back in September, we talked about the groundwork Microsoft was laying for quantum computing with a new programming language in development. The company also announced its plans to release a new programming language for quantum computers later this year.

The kit also comes with a suite of documentation, libraries, and sample programs to help introduce developers to some of quantum computing's unique elements, such as quantum teleportation.

Speaking to Computerworld in April, Professor David Reilly, who was appointed a year ago to lead the Australian branch of Microsoft's global network of quantum labs, said the company had "reached a point where we can move from mathematical modelling and theory to applied engineering for significant scale-up".

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the annual Microsoft shareholders meeting in Bellevue Wash. AP
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the annual Microsoft shareholders meeting in Bellevue Wash. AP

Microsoft's approach is centered on the development of a topological qubit, a more robust type of qubit that Microsoft's experts believe will provide a better basis for practical, scalable quantum computing. That's partly because quantum computers will be able to do calculations in hours or even minutes that would take the lifetime of the universe for even the most advanced classical computers in use today. The "killer app" of quantum computing is discovering a more efficient way to synthesize ammonia for fertilizer - a process that now consumes three percent of the world's natural gas, according to Krysta Svore, who oversees the software aspects of Microsoft's quantum work.

"It seems like there's a huge amount of potential there, and we're just scratching the surface", Svore said.

All these features and tools are not offering "quantum computing for dummies" rather they require developers to have a strong grasp of a form of computing that flips traditional computing on it head. Quantum computation can be deployed to tackle some of the hardest problems, including climate change and world hunger.

Microsoft has high hopes for quantum computing and is investing accordingly.

"What you're going to see as a developer is the opportunity to tie into tools that you already know well, services you already know well", Holmdahl said. When Microsoft would be able to create a general-purpose quantum computer, the applications created via this kit would be supported.

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