Satya Nadella says Microsoft has taken a “very different approach” about its quantum computing technology

Dave W. Shanahan

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At the Microsoft Alumni Network annual “Reunion with a Purpose” event at the company’s Redmond campus, CEO Satya Nadella fielded some questions about Microsoft’s quantum computing efforts. While still largely theoretical, quantum computing would use atoms and molecules for processing and memory in order to boost computing power to an unbelievable level, even by today’s standards.

Nadella previously discussed Microsoft’s hardware goals at the GeekWire 2017 Summit earlier this week. Unlike this previous event, the Microsoft Alumni Network event was more light-hearted and fun. As reported by GeekWire, when Nadella was asked if the company’s quantum computing aspirations would be something that Microsoft would be able to offer to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), like HP, Natella joked that quantum computing is “not OEM-ready yet” to laughs and applause at such a humorous question.

Nadella took a more serious and composed tone to explain Microsoft’s approach to quantum computing.

“We’re still in the early stages. We have taken a very different approach. Even in the next year there will be a couple of gimmicks that will happen. Not building a general purpose quantum computer. We have taken an approach saying, look, let’s go for the general-purpose quantum computer, because that’s the prize, as opposed to worrying about the short term.”

Nadella was there with current Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, a former Microsoft executive, who was once Nadella’s manager (as a reminder, Nadella is also now a Starbucks board member). Most of the people that were at the Microsoft Alumni Network event were previous longtime Microsoft employees that worked on projects or products to make Microsoft the company that it is today.

Most of the discussion at the Reunion with a Purpose centered around Nadella’s book, “Hit Refresh,” as well as Nadella’s background and the future of technology as a whole. In Hit Refresh, Nadella identifies the three big areas that will push technology to continue to innovate: mixed reality, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

Microsoft is well-poised to take advantage of quantum computing as the company is heavily invested in developing data centers around the world. Nadella explained:

“Most people think about our hardware business as our device business. Our hardware business is our data center business, in a big way. And so when you are essentially spending that level of money building the next generation of compute, that means you have permission to look for what is the next big thing. It’s kind of like a network operator who’s doing 4G today, thinking about 5G or 6G, and so to me, that’s how I think about quantum as an investment.”

Clearly, Nadella is confident that Microsoft’s investment in quantum computing will pay off. As always, we will have to wait and see what happens.