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Microsoft is making a significant investment in creating a practical version of the basic component needed to build a quantum computer, the company’s head of research said Monday.

Speaking at MIT Technology Review’s Digital Summit event in San Francisco, Peter Lee likened the effort to research at Bell Labs in the 1940s that produced the silicon transistor, the basis of all computing today. “This is our attempt to find the analogous device to the transistor,” said Lee.

In an interview, he told MIT Technology Review that Microsoft had previously kept its quantum effort relatively quiet, but that positive results have convinced him to be more open. “One reason we’ve been a little cagey is that early on this was a fringe effort—now the physics community takes us seriously,” he said. “We are very serious about our quantum physics research and we’re expanding.”

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