For more than 15 years, researchers at Microsoft have been chasing the idea of building a better quantum computer, an ultrapowerful machine that promises to accelerate everything from drug discovery to the development of electric batteries.
Along the way, the company has suffered setbacks as it takes a novel—and risky—approach to developing the technology. Last year, for instance, a group of physicists that included a Microsoft researcher had to retract a paper related to quantum computing, an embarrassment that dampened morale. And even as it made progress with one method of controlling the building blocks of quantum computers, it turned away from its work on another, shutting down a project that had been underway for several years. The move resulted in several hundred people having to find new jobs within Microsoft, said a person with direct knowledge of the change.
Still, Chetan Nayak, a distinguished engineer at the company and one of Microsoft’s top quantum computing researchers, told The Information in an interview that the company is making technical progress. A breakthrough just before the holidays gave him more faith in its efforts, he said. While Nayak wouldn’t go into much detail, he said Microsoft conducted simulations that made him confident the company’s approach wasn’t a dead end. He was so enthusiastic about the results that he told his wife he didn’t need a Christmas gift.