Microsoft creates a quantum programming language

Posted Sep 28, 2017 by James Walker
Microsoft has announced it's ready to put its full support behind quantum computing and wants to encourage developers to follow its lead. The company has created a new programming language so coders can write their first quantum programs.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on stage at Microsoft Inspire 2017
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on stage at Microsoft Inspire 2017
Microsoft unveiled its quantum toolkit during its Ignite event earlier this week. The company described quantum computing as a "revolutionary" technology that has the potential to unlock new frontiers of physics, maths and data. Although quantum computing is still highly experimental, the foundations are slowly being constructed for the future of technology.
To help drive innovation in the field, Microsoft has created a quantum computing simulator that developers can run on their own machine. It's integrated into the company's Visual Studio programming environment and includes its own unnamed programming language. Using the toolkit, developers are able to write, debug and run quantum programs which could be deployed without modifications to Microsoft's real quantum computer.
"The same code that you're running today in simulation you can run tomorrow on our quantum computer," said Krysta Svore, lead developer of Microsoft's quantum computing software.
The toolkit expands quantum computing into "mainstream" development, enabling developers to start honing their skills by creating and running actual programs. So far, quantum tech has been restricted to small groups of experts at the major tech firms. Integrating quantum computing into Visual Studio gives any developer the chance to start exploring the technology, widening the available talent pool for firms working in the field.
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There are limitations of the current toolkit. For one, developers will need a powerful computer to actually run quantum programs, with memory usage in particular far beyond a regular app. The toolkit will offer simulations of up to 32 qubits – the quantum counterparts to computer bits – but demands 32GB of RAM to reach this level. Microsoft will also offer an Azure cloud environment with 40 qubit performance.
Quantum computing is getting so much attention because experts think it could solve problems that would take even the most powerful supercomputers years to resolve. The tech's being hyped as a way to model nature, understand quantum physics, build future technologies and solve social issues by modelling transport networks, water tables and global food consumption. It could find answers to questions and problems previously considered impossible to understand.
Quantum dominance is still a long way off though, if it happens at all. Classical computing will still be more suited to certain kinds of task. Emerging fields such as AI, computer vision and big data analysis are the most likely to benefit from a quantum speed boost.
By bringing quantum tools to every developer, Microsoft can advance research in the field though. Even if developers still can't access quantum hardware, they can now start thinking about how to model problems in a quantum environment. When the hardware is ready, programmers will be able to start deploying their software and obtaining answers. Microsoft said a preview of its simulator tech will be released later this year.