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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the company’s Ignite conference this morning. (Via Microsoft webcast)

Microsoft says it has a created a new programming language for quantum computers, seeking to help developers unlock the still largely theoretical power of a new form of technology that promises to exponentially increase the power of computing.

As part of its Ignite technology conference this morning, the company announced that the new programming language will be released later this year, integrated into its Visual Studio programming software with debugging support and simulators to run on local machines or the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

It’s an ambitious move by the company, seeking to demonstrate leadership in a form of computing that is still likely many years away from practical reality.

Quantum computers use atoms and molecules for processing and memory, allowing them to hold multiple states at once, in contrast with traditional computer processing in which bits are either on or off, a one or a zero. The promise of quantum computing is exponentially faster processing than traditional computing allows, leading to new breakthroughs and insights across a range of technologies and industries.

Microsoft is far from alone in pursuing quantum computing, as IBM, Google and a long list of companies, notably D-Wave Systems near Vancouver, B.C., seek to unlock this new wave of technology.

The Redmond company has been working on quantum computing for more than a decade, but the initiative has seen a new push under CEO Satya Nadella, who sees quantum computing as one of the key drivers for the future of technology, along with mixed reality and artificial intelligence. The company has assembled a multidisciplinary team of quantum computing experts in math, physics and computer science, some of whom joined Nadella on stage at Ignite this morning.

Speaking at the Ignite conference in Orlando this morning, Nadella pointed to unsolved computational problems that quantum computing could address: new superconducting material for lossless power transmission to address energy challenges; the potential discovery of a catalyst that could absorb carbon to end global warming; and precision medicine to better model the interactions among different drugs.

Nadella told the audience, “We set out with a goal of not just trying to achieve a few scientific milestones, but we went back to the first core principles and said, ‘What would it take to build a truly scalable quantum computer?'”

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