TL; DR – Microsoft elevated pure science to front and centre at MS Ignite. This is to be applauded.
One of the sad clichés of large vendor conference keynotes is an emphasis on hyperbole and big sweeping statements around relatively small increments. Occasionally you get something truly ground breaking or disruptive, but rarely is there an emphasis on pure science and primary research in the CEOs keynote. We have, however, previously noted an ongoing shift at the practitioner level, with a worldwide growth in interest in solid academic research.
Microsoft turned the traditional keynote on its ear on Monday when CEO Satya Nadella invited four leadings scientists from Microsoft Research on stage for a brief panel discussion on Quantum Computing.
The researchers were mathematician Dr Michael Freedman, physicist’s Prof Charlie Marcus and Prof Leo Kouwenhoven, and computer scientist Dr Krysta Svore. The discussion itself, although brief, is both enlightening and fascinating, I highly recommend you take fifteen minutes to watch it.
This is not mere marketing materials, there is a significant amount of published research behind this work. Microsoft, and others, have been talking about their Quantum Computing research publicly for several years. That said, major publications such as The Economist have been writing about Quantum Computing on and off for almost twenty years. There is still a long journey to go on.
It is also worth highlighting that a pure science section in an enterprise customer focused keynote is a risk, far riskier than talking about buzzword concepts such as AI, VR and so forth. There was an appropriate level of grumbling on twitter, but, personally, I was delighted to see such a focus on science.
MyPOV: A mainstream keynote with this level of focus on maths, physics & compsci is a great thing to see #MSIgnite
— Fintan Ryan (@fintanr) September 25, 2017
The Wider Quantum Space
Announcements from Microsoft aside, it is important to note that IBM made a splash around their Quantum Computing work last year, and have an environment you can access today via the IBM Quantum Experience. As with Microsoft, the work of IBM is the result of years of research across multiple disciplines by scientists such as Dr Charles Bennett and Dr Jerry Chow.
More interestingly, from a developer perspective, IBM have also released an initial SDK, the Quantum QISKit which uses python as its entry point. Microsoft announced a new quantum language during Ignite, but details are still to be announced. Currently you can only sign up for announcements.
Google have not stated much publicly, beyond their frequently cited research paper “Characterizing Quantum Supremacy in Near -Term Devices”, but we anticipate an announcement relatively soon.
What is the Difference with The Microsoft Announcement?
As for the why? Microsoft want, and need, you to know that they are investing in a future that most businesses have not even begun to think about. As we have already noted they are not the only major technology company actively productising research in this space. But Microsoft are the first to put their Quantum efforts so front and centre at a main stream conference, and in doing so have taken an initial lead in mindshare.
There is also the commercial logic. Quantum Computing is going to require incredibly specialised hardware, software and environments. Accessing these resources via the cloud is likely to be the only way that most people will ever interact with a Quantum Computer. The potential upside for adjacent services is mind blowing.
— Holger Mueller (@holgermu) September 25, 2017
The Trudeau Moment
So why did we call this a Trudeau moment? Politicians get asked questions which they are expected to make flippant answers to daily. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got such a question last year, and responded with a better explanation of aspects of Quantum Computing than most people can give.
In bringing Quantum Computing directly into his conference keynote, Satya Nadella has shifted the conversation away from the esoteric and into the mainstream. More importantly he has brought science and primary research back to its rightful place – front and centre. We hope others across the industry will do the same.
Disclaimers: Microsoft, IBM and Google are all current RedMonk clients.