A tribute to people who make things happen

On Microsoft's quest to Quantum Computing

Posted by Ciprian on July 01, 2020

It's July 1st, which means it's Most Valuable Professional time for the Microsoft community. I have just received the news that in my 14th year as MVP, I got a double nomination for my contributions in the areas of Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing. For the last 16 years, I've also been recognized as a Microsoft Regional Director. Next year I'll mark the 25th year of my professional career in IT - I spent all of them with various degrees of involvement in the Microsoft ecosystem. I am humbled, grateful, inspired, and challenged by these honorary titles. And yes, I am a fan of Microsoft, but it's the kind of fandom that doesn't keep me from pointing out when something's not aligned with my values system. Consequently, please view everything I am about to say through this lens. If you question the value of such an insider's view, stop reading here. We're all good :)

I grew up as a child in communist Romania, one of the many challenges I faced in my early teens. I was lucky enough to be only 12 years old when a bloody and yet-to-be-fully-clarified revolution changed our lives in December 1989. A year later, I got my hands for the first time on a Z80. Not long after that, I saw for the first time an IBM PC XT 286 running MS-DOS (for those of you who were too young or still a wish back then, that was a 6 MHz machine :) :) :) ). Kicking the tires of MS-DOS is my earliest memory of interaction with something Microsoft built.

Fast forward to 2020, and I am still interacting with stuff Microsoft builds. Only this time, it's Azure Synapse Analytics, Azure Machine Learning, Q#, Quantum Computing SDK, and many more. The journey has been nothing short of amazing. As it happens with any journey, there were hiccups as well. Quite a few, I dare say. Missing the Internet race in the 90s, Windows Vista, and Windows Phone are some of the "popular" ones (notice how I'm not mentioning Clippy here). The historical truth is that Microsoft survived all of them, and pushed forward, sometimes failing, most of the time succeeding, but always innovating.

Ever since it was a garage play, the company had innovation in its DNA. Today, that is more visible than ever. 2020 catches Microsoft on the cutting edge of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Mixed Reality, Security, Privacy, Cryptography, Hardware, Data Platforms, Cloud Computing, and Quantum Computing (to name just a few). The list itself is nothing short of impressive. What's even more impressive is the human touch that comes with it. Nothing speaks more about this touch than the six fundamental principles Microsoft follows in Artificial Intelligence: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability. Being heavily involved in the field, I am acutely aware of the potential risks we face, and I recognize the importance of responsible approaches.

Among the areas mentioned above, there is one that stands out - Quantum Computing. That's because it brings the (unfulfilled yet) promise of changing everything we know about computing. I am a believer in the idea that responsible use of technology serves humankind two goals. The shorter-term one is an improvement in our quality of life. The longer-term one is our survival, plain and simple. Classical Computing is probably not going to be entirely replaced by Quantum Computing, but it has proven limitations that are impossible to overcome. For most of us in the field, it becomes increasingly clear that we will need a significant leap forward. As of today, Quantum Computing holds the best promise for that. Microsoft is among the select companies with the will, the resources, and the brains to tackle the problem of building a programable quantum computer. Please take my word for it - it's a monumental task, from pure math to developing the real thing.

There is one more thing about Microsoft's approach to Quantum Computing, perhaps the most important. It is the unique approach pursued in building it, based on the properties of the topological state of the matter. It is by far the more difficult approach, but it's the one that yields the highest probability of success when aiming for a universal quantum computer. To pursue such a path, a company needs vision, incredibly smart people, and an outstanding capacity to execute. Keep in mind that Microsoft made the original decision to pursue this approach way before even the experimental results matched the mathematical theory. Following that, it proved it has the strength to continue on the path, despite monumental challenges and hurdles.

By any standard, that alone is impressive. Being even a tiny part of something that will most probably change everything we know about computing, is an opportunity for a generation, perhaps also for a lifetime. The fact that the company I've had been connected with my entire professional career is among the principal drivers to Quantum Computing makes me proud and inspires me. And makes my little failed-physicist heart tick :)

I am fortunate to have reached a point in my life where my professional status allows total freedom in praising or criticizing anybody and anything without having to worry about the consequences. I believe striving to be as objective as possible every time I have to say something is one of the "secrets" that got me here. Saying something whenever I have to say something is another one. The inauguration of the "Quantum" MVP award felt like a great moment to give this praise to a company that is among the select few that have a chance to get technology to the next level. A praise to its visionaries (both business and technical) that believe in what they do even if everybody thinks they are trying the impossible. A praise to its dreamers who are seeing things from angles unreachable to the rest of us. A praise to its engineers who are morphing those visions and dreams into real things.

Thank you, Microsoft, for being the inspiration and the challenge in my professional life. Keep doing what you do and protect your most valuable assets - your drive and your ability to innovate.