About ten years ago, Todd Holmdahl, corporate vice president of Microsoft Quantum, was working on Kinect, the groundbreaking motion-sensing accessory for the Xbox 360.
It was the first time in his career that he used artificial intelligence and machine learning. It excited him enough that he would tell his own children that AI would be the most in-demand field in the tech industry.
"I told my kids that you should do what you're passionate about, but if you want a job, you can always get a job in machine learning and AI," Holmdahl told Business Insider in a recent conversation.
Today, he would have different advice for his kids, or any other kids who needed career advice.
"I really think today where people are in quantum computing, it is going to happen," says Holmdahl. "I would tell them today to get into quantum computing."
Quantum computers have special properties that allow them to process exponentially more information than a regular, also called "classical," computer. With a classical computer, data is represented as a binary string of 1's and 0's. Quantum computers, however, can represent data as 0, 1, or both at the same time, which for complicated mathematical reasons means that they can process a lot more data at once.
Potentially, quantum computers could be used for predicting the stock market, finding more efficient shipping routes, food production, chemistry, drug discovery, cryptography and more.
"Quantum computing is the opportunity to take a classic problem like health care and climate change and to be able to solve them in hours or seconds on a quantum computer," Holmdahl said. "The way a quantum computer works is that it can look at a multitude of different dimensions."
At the same time, experts have told Business Insider that we're still 5 to 10 years away from the point at which quantum computers will surpass their classical brethern at most tasks.
Read more:Quantum computing could change everything, and IBM is racing with Microsoft, Intel, and Google to conquer it. Here's what you need to know
In 2018, less than 1% of organizations budgeted for quantum computing projects, but analyst firm Gartner estimates that by 2023, this will rise to 20%. And according to the analysts at Forrester, VCs invested $85 million into quantum computing in 2015. Two years later, that had skyrocketed to $400 million.
Krysta Svore, general manager of quantum software at Microsoft Microsoft
"We're really at a moment when many businesses are starting to think about the promise of quantum information sciences and the promise of quantum computing for solving the world's most challenging problems," Krysta Svore, general manager of quantum software at Microsoft, told Business Insider.
Currently at Microsoft, Holmdahl is leading the team in building a topological qubit, which fragments electrons to store information in multiple places at the same time. This is a different way of thinking about it than the approach other companies are taking: Intel, IBM and Google are using superconducting circuits to build quantum computers, similar to the basic ways classical computers are made today.
Although analysts say Microsoft's approach is a major risk, if it works, it could put Microsoft ahead of its competitors with a much more powerful quantum computer. Holmdahl says Microsoft is aiming to finish its qubit by the end of this year.
Quantum computers are still in their early stages, but Holmdahl expects more jobs to open up for people to conduct research and to build quantum computing hardware and software. In fact, Microsoft just helped launch a summit to bring more talent itoquantum computing, and started a quantum programming course for undergraduates.
"Microsoft's focus is producing a scalable quantum computer and bringing that forward for our customers and for our future," Svore said. "To do that, we need to be able to accelerate the progress in quantum computing. We need to be able to educate a whole world of quantum developers."
Microsoft quantum computing project in Copenhagen, Denmark Microsoft
It may be too late for Holmdahl to tell his kids to get into quantum computing a decade early, but he says that there's still a lot of opportunity there for anybody who wants to get in on the ground floor.
"It's a field that's going to grow," Holmdahl said. "We need a number of people to sustain and staff it and you can see Microsoft is putting a bunch of efforts to invest in the quantum workforce. This will be the biggest thing in our generation. This is going to be able to do amazing things in the future."
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