Microsoft 2018 quantum computing breakthrough was a technical error

Posted on Monday, February 15 2021 @ 8:53 CET by Thomas De Maesschalck
An amusing read to start the week. In 2018, Microsoft thought it had made a quantum computing breakthrough as it believed it had observed an elusive particle called a Majorana fermion. The software giant hoped the discovery would propel it to make its own commercial quantum computer by 2023. Now it turns out that the 2018 discovery, which was published in the prestigious Nature journal, was nothing more than an error.

A new paper has more information from the team's experiments and contains a note that a retraction of the original paper will be done due to "technical errors."
Two physicists in the field say extra data Kouwenhoven’s group provided them after they questioned the 2018 results shows the team had originally excluded data points that undermined its news-making claims. “I don’t know for sure what was in their heads,” says Sergey Frolov, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, “but they skipped some data that contradicts directly what was in the paper. From the fuller data, there’s no doubt that there’s no Majorana.”

The 2018 paper claimed to show firmer evidence for Majorana particles than a 2012 study with more ambiguous results that nevertheless won fame for Kouwenhoven and his lab at Delft Technical University. That project was partly funded by Microsoft, and the company hired Kouwenhoven to work on Majoranas in 2016.
Microsoft hoped to create scalable quantum computers based on Majorana particles, a novel approach not followed by competitors like Google, IBM, and Intel. After more than a decade of research, Microsoft still doesn't have a single qubit, whereas the other three firms have prototypes with around 50 qubits. That's still far from enough for practical quantum computers -- which will likely require thousands or even millions of qubits.

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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