Microsoft Releases Private Preview of Azure Quantum Elements with Copilot AI Capabilities
Microsoft this week described some of its advances in quantum computing, along with new resources for accelerating scientific and industry research.
One of the new resources introduced was Azure Quantum Elements, currently accessible as a private preview via this signup page. Microsoft also described the availability a browser-accessible Copilot in Azure Quantum, which is an artificial intelligence (AI) aid for researchers and coders that's also at the private preview stage.
Quantum Computing -- Not There Yet
The various announcements, including this one from Microsoft Technical Fellow Chetan Nayak, explained that the quantum computing industry has not yet advanced to its optimal level.
Currently, the industry is at the Level 1 "Foundational" stage, which involves using "noisy physical qubits." Microsoft's Azure Quantum service currently operates at that level using "IonQ, Pasqal, Quantinuum, QCI and Rigetti" quantum computers. Microsoft defines a qubit, or "quantum bit," a the basic information unit of quantum computing, where it can have "multiple possible states," instead of the binary "0" and "1" state.
The industry wants to get to the quantum computing Level 2 "Resilient" stage, when "reliable logical qubits" will be used. Level 2 will enable applications to scale, which is now a problem with the noisy physical qubits of Level 1. The industry is still working on reliable logical qubits that will have a low enough error rate to be stable.
Microsoft is now claiming a major milestone to that end has been achieved by "passing the topological gap protocol," per a recently published Physical Review B journal article. Nayak explained that this advancement represents a step toward getting a stable qubit:
The topological phase can enable highly stable qubits with small footprints, fast gate times, and digital control. However, disorder can destroy the topological phase and obscure its detection. Our paper reports on devices with low enough disorder to pass the topological gap protocol, thereby demonstrating this phase of matter and paving the way for a new stable qubit.
Also, the advancement described in this journal article "establishes that Microsoft has achieved the first milestone towards creating a reliable and practical quantum supercomputer," Nayak stated.
Ultimately, the goal is to get to the Level 3 "Scale" stage, which will require processing one million "reliable quantum operations per second" (rQOPS). Level 2 can operate at that level, but it just becomes "meaningful" at Level 3, which is when quantum computers will exceed the performance of current supercomputers.
Here's how Nayak described the boundaries for Level 3 quantum computing in terms of meeting the needs of materials and chemical researchers:
At one million rQOPS, a quantum supercomputer could simulate simple models of correlated materials, aiding in the creation of better superconductors, for example. In order to solve the most challenging commercial chemistry and materials science problems, a supercomputer will need to continue to scale to one billion rQOPS and beyond, with an error rate of at most 10-18 or one for every quintillion operations.
Azure Quantum Elements Private Preview
Microsoft described Azure Quantum Elements as "a system that boosts productivity for chemistry and materials science R&D." It provides "simulation workflows" using Azure high-performance computing (HPC) clusters, along with artificial intelligence and quantum tools.
Researchers can use the Azure Quantum Elements private preview to get ready for quantum computing as it advances, Microsoft argued:
Get ready for quantum computing by addressing quantum chemistry problems today with AI & HPC, while experimenting with existing quantum hardware and getting priority access to Microsoft's quantum supercomputer in the future.
Copilot in Azure Quantum
Microsoft didn't have a lot to say about Copilot in Azure Quantum. It's an AI query tool based on the ChatGPT 4 large language model that lets researchers "reason through complex chemistry and materials science problems," per Nayak. It's a "free" resource that lets researchers "learn about quantum and write code for today's quantum computers."
Microsoft's Azure Quantum home page offered two Copilot links to that end (for chemistry and for coding). Although Copilot in Azure Quantum is at private preview, it seemed generally accessible at press time. It let the public to ask it questions about chemistry, for instance.
More on Microsoft's quantum computing efforts can be found at this Microsoft landing page. The landing page includes links to articles, as well as a presentation headed by Microsoft luminaries Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, and Jason Zander, executive vice president for strategic missions and technologies at Microsoft.
Also, there was a presentation on quantum computing for chemists and materials scientists held on June 22 by Nathan Baker, chemist and leader of Microsoft's Azure Quantum partner development team, as described at this sign-up page.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.