Microsoft has launched a preview of a development kit for quantum computers, including a programming language called Q# (“Q Sharp”) and a quantum computing simulator that the company said can run on a typical laptop.
The then-unnamed language was announced in September at Microsoft’s Ignite conference in Orlando, and was promised by the end of the year.
Working quantum computers, which theoretically could rely on quantum physics effects to carry out calculations much more quickly than current supercomputers, are thought to be years away, but Microsoft said it wants to allow programmers to begin familiarising themselves with the concepts involved.
The new Quantum Development Kit integrates with Microsoft’s popular Visual Studio software development tools and allows users to debug quantum code and test programs on small instances on their own local systems.
The local simulator can emulate around 30 logical quantum bits, or qubits, of computing power using 32BG of RAM, and another version running on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform can scale up to more than 40 logical qubits.
The introduction of programming tools based on those developers are already familiar with could help spread knowledge of quantum computing concepts to people who aren’t experts in the field, Microsoft said.
Microsoft is also making documentation, libraries and sample programs available and believes the material could help users begin experimenting with techniques such as quantum teleportation, a way of sharing information across qubits connected by a quantum state called entanglement.
“The hope is that you play with something like teleportation and you get intrigued,” stated Krysta Svore, a principal researcher at Microsoft who has led the development of the development kit.
Code developed for the simulator should work unchanged when linked to actual quantum computing hardware, Svore said.
While the bits current computers rely on can represent either a 1 or a 0 at any given time, qubits can represent both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, which researchers believe should mean an enormous advance in the speed with which computing tasks can be carried out, such that quantum computers could theoretically solve problems in minutes that might take millions of years on a current supercomputer.
Companies including IBM and Google have built and tested small assemblies of qubits, and IBM has made prototype quantum chips available via the cloud, along with a software development kit programmers can use to experiment with it. Startup Rigetti Computing also offers a set of quantum programming tools called Forest.
Microsoft has been pursuing a means of producing qubits based on the manipulation of subatomic particles called Majorana fermions, which it believes should reduce the instability inherent in the technology and make it less error-prone, but it hasn’t yet created a working quantum bit.
The company said in September it has invested in quantum computing for 12 years.
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