Microsoft makes it easier to integrate quantum and classical computers

    By default, every quantum computer becomes a hybrid that combines quantum and classical computers. Microsoft estimates that a quantum computer that can help solve some of the world’s most pressing questions needs at least a million stable qubits. It takes massive classical computational power – which is really only available in the cloud – to run a machine like this and handle the error correction algorithms needed to keep it stable. Indeed, Microsoft estimates that to achieve the necessary fault tolerance, a quantum computer must be integrated with a peta-scale computing platform that can process between ten and one hundred terabits per second of data moving between the quantum and classical machines. Microsoft is at the American Physical Society March Meeting in Las Vegas today show off part of the work it has done to make this possible and launch what it calls the “Integrated Hybrid” feature in Azure Quantum.

    “With this Integrated Hybrid feature, you can start using classical code alongside quantum code within your quantum applications,” said Krysta Svore, Microsoft’s VP of Advanced Quantum Development. “Putting that classical and quantum code together unlocks new types, new styles of quantum algorithms, prototypes, subroutines, if you will, where you can control what you do with qubits based on classical information. This is an industry first.”

    Image Credits: Microsoft

    This, she argued, is a step in bringing classical and quantum computing together, as well as enabling new error correction protocols. Without this enormous amount of classical computational power, it will not be possible – at least for the foreseeable future – to effectively control a quantum machine.

    “Arguably the only place you can have scaled-up quantum machines is scaled-up quantum computers in a public cloud, because it’s so crucial to have that scale level of classical computers integrated with the quantum machine,” Svore said. explained. She describes the process as a dance, where the classical computer helps choreograph a million qubits to work together at the same time, “all doing their little square dance — or hexagonal dance, whatever it may be.” But to do that, you have to talk to all these qubits at the same time, which necessitates these massive computational and bandwidth requirements.

    Svore also argues that a lot of classical computational power is required to build the algorithms which are then sent to the quantum machine – which can then take weeks to perform any given calculation (and that feedback loop can also occur countless times).

    With this new Integrated Hybrid feature, Microsoft is giving developers — and researchers — the tools to see what this combination of quantum and classical looks like in practice. Specifically, Svore told me it will allow them to release a version of the phase estimation algorithm, for example, which is a key algorithm in the quantum computing toolkit. Researchers will soon be able to use it Quantum hardware available in Azure to test this and then have the classical computer respond to, for example, data that comes back from the quantum machine. Until now, much of this was theoretical, but now it will be possible to do it in hardware.

    Over time, the role of classical computing in enabling quantum computing in industry has become more and more understood. Microsoft, of course, argues that its massive cloud will enable it to provide the kind of classic computing power needed to run these machines. It is clearly not the only player in the market, as Amazon, Google, IBM and others can also integrate quantum processors into their massive data centers.

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