The kit is created to get developers up to speed with programming on quantum computers.
Given that quantum computers are still rare, Microsoft has built an as-yet-unnamed quantum simulator to run those quantum programs. The Quantum Development Kit is deeply integrated with Visual Studio, Microsoft's suite of developer tools, so programmers can start coding for quantum computers in a familiar environment.
Companies including IBM and Google have built and tested small assemblies of qubits, and IBM has made prototype quantum chips available via the cloud, along with a software development kit programmers can use to experiment with it. Startup Rigetti Computing also offers a set of quantum programming tools called Forest. Along with the Quantum Development Kit, Microsoft also released the Q# programming language, a quantum computing simulator and other resources which help developers to get started with Quantum Computing development.
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Quantum computers are expected to boost the capabilities of artificial intelligence, improve cybersecurity, and allow for more nuanced natural language processing. "It is to be used for writing sub-programs that execute on an adjunct quantum processor, under the control of a classical host program and computer".
While the bits current computers rely on can represent either a 1 or a 0 at any given time, qubits can represent both a 1 and a 0 simultaneously, which researchers believe should mean an enormous advance in the speed with which computing tasks can be carried out, such that quantum computers could theoretically solve problems in minutes that might take millions of years on a current supercomputer. They need to be stored at very low temperatures, for example, or they might be disturbed and destroyed.
It goes without saying that quantum physics is extremely complex, and even some of the smartest people in the world confess that quantum computing is hard for them to understand. The company first announced plans to develop a Quantum Development Kit in September at its Ignite conference.
All these features and tools are not offering "quantum computing for dummies" - far from it. "There will be a twist with quantum computing, but it's our job to make it as easy as possible for the developers who know and love us to be able to use these new tools that could potentially do some things exponentially faster - which means going from a billion years on a classical computer to a couple hours on a quantum computer".