Microsoft builds a programming language for quantum computing

It was a given that Microsoft would talk about Windows and mixed reality at its Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida today. Few, however, could have predicted that Microsoft would broach the subject of quantum computing, let alone announce a new programming language for coders to work with quantum bits. Yet that is exactly what Microsoft did.

Professor Winfried Hensinger, head of the Ion Quantum Technology Group at Sussex University, once said the "Holy Grail of science, really, [is] to build a quantum computer." That is actually what Microsoft intends to do, and has been working on for quite some time.

The company's latest breakthrough is a programming language that it is integrating into Visual Studio, that is designed to work on both a quantum simulator and a quantum computer. It is part of a larger effort to build out a quantum computing ecosystem consisting of hardware and software.

Part of that entails developing what Microsoft calls topological qubits, which are more stable than quantum bits. The ultimate goal is to build out hardware that could be run from anywhere and not be relegated to lab. Therein lies the larger challenge, and part of the reason why we won't see quantum PCs anytime soon.

Even topological qubits require extremely cold temperatures. At present, Microsoft is working on a system architecture in which qubits operate at just a hair above absolute zero, or 30 milikelvin, which is colder than deep space.

In that way, it seems that Microsoft is putting the cart before the horse by developing a programming language for quantum computing. However, it's not without purpose. Krysta Svore, who led development of Microsoft software designed to work on quantum computers, says the key advantage to having a programming language that works in a simulation environment is that it will help people interested in using quantum computers to get a better sense of how to harness quantum power for different types of problems, and be better prepared once quantum computing is actually available.

This is an interesting play by Microsoft. Much of the world today runs on Windows. Quantum computing has the potential to shake things up in a big way, and by developing a programming language and tools for quantum computing while simultaneously working on hardware, Microsoft is preparing for what could be a tectonic shift.

Microsoft did not talk about gaming as it relates to quantum computing, which is not surprising. Simulating climate change and solving some of the world's most complex problems take precedence. However, it's conceivable that some aspects of quantum computing could be applied to gaming, such as advanced AI.