By Sara Castellanos
Microsoft Corp. this week unveiled cloud-based quantum-computing
tools that companies can use to speed up calculations on classical
computers, among other things.
The tech giant joins Alphabet Inc.'s Google and International
Business Machines Corp. in a race to commercialize the emerging
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, for
example, recently used a Microsoft-developed quantum algorithm
running on a classical machine to detect whether cancer treatments
are working for a patient after one dose of chemotherapy. The
algorithm helps improve MRI scanning techniques, meaning that
changes can be seen within a week, rather than in six months with
more traditional methods.
"That's really important for both patient outcomes and quality
of life, because if your chemotherapy isn't working, you just
poisoned your body for nothing," Mark Griswold, Case Western
Reserve professor of radiology and director of MRI research, said
in a statement.
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella on Monday introduced
Azure Quantum at the company's annual Ignite conference in Orlando,
Fla. The new set of tools, which includes access to early-stage
quantum-computing hardware, will be rolled out to early users in
the coming months via Microsoft's Azure cloud business. Prices
haven't been determined, the company said.
Mr. Nadella said in his keynote speech that the emerging
technology could eventually be used to help tackle global problems
related to food safety and climate change. "These are big
challenges that need more computing," he said.
By harnessing the properties of quantum physics, quantum
computers have the potential to sort through a vast number of
possibilities in nearly real time and come up with a probable
solution. While traditional computers store information as either
zeros or ones, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which
represent and store information as both zeros and ones
No commercial-grade quantum computer has been built yet. IBM has
offered customers access to early-stage quantum-computing machines
over its cloud since 2016. Google last month announced a
quantum-computing experiment that generated about 1 million random
strings of numbers in roughly three minutes, a task the company
said would have taken the world's fastest conventional
supercomputer 10,000 years.
Microsoft is developing its own quantum computer, which relies
on a branch of mathematics called topology, but this isn't
accessible to the company's clients.
Azure Quantum focuses mainly on preparing developers for the
technology, providing them a sandbox to develop algorithms and
applications for quantum computers without having to rewrite their
code when the hardware and algorithms get more advanced. Developers
can also experiment with quantum algorithms on traditional
machines, as the Case Western project did.
"The real race here is for developer adoption," said Matthew
Brisse, research vice president and analyst at technology research
and advisory firm Gartner Inc. "If you can get a developer
accustomed to your platform and start developing solutions based on
that platform, then the hardware will just follow."
By 2023, a fifth of organizations, including businesses and
governments, are expected to budget for quantum-computing projects,
up from less than 1% in 2018, according to Gartner.
Through Azure Quantum, customers will have access to early-stage
quantum-computing hardware from Honeywell International Inc., IonQ
Inc. and Quantum Circuits Inc. Honeywell and IonQ are working to
commercialize quantum computing using a method that involves light
and small particles. Quantum Circuits, Google and IBM use another
Azure customers will also have access to services from 1QB
Information Technologies Inc., a venture-capital-backed startup
that helps companies identify specific use cases for quantum
computing and develops software programs that are crucial to their
The company, known as 1QBit, offers a way for software
developers to experiment with quantum algorithms that operate on
classical computers. "Quantum-inspired" algorithms are a useful
midpoint between classical and quantum computing because they still
speed up calculations, said Krysta Svore, general manager of
quantum software at Microsoft.
Those algorithms could also be used to speed up calculations in
chemistry, which is "one of the most exciting application areas for
quantum computing," Ms. Svore said.
Quantum computing could combat carbon-dioxide emissions by
helping chemists design new materials and processes, said Landon
Downs, president and co-founder of Vancouver, Canada-based 1QBit.
"Presently we discover new materials by doing experiments in a lab,
whereas with quantum computers we'll design materials with specific
properties," he said in an email.
Write to Sara Castellanos at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 06, 2019 17:12 ET (22:12 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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