Microsoft just announced a quantum-computing advancement today: a measurement that looks like an electron split in half in a piece of wire. It will be of central importance if the company hopes to create a working quantum computer.

Big companies like IBM, Google, and Intel (and even a few startups) have built quantum computers with multiple qubits. It may appear that Microsoft is lagging behind—it hasn’t even debuted a single qubit yet! But Microsoft is working on its own quantum computer that incorporates brain-melting physics to overcome challenges plaguing the competitors. If it gets everything working, this could be a really big deal.

Quantum computers are machines that use the basics of quantum physics, the physics of the smallest particles, to perform calculations difficult or impossible for regular computers to do. While you may have heard of machines with as many as Google’s 72 qubits, those are imprecise. The tiniest vibrations or energy from the outside environment could lead to an error in the calculation. But Microsoft’s ‘topological’ quantum computers might drastically reduce that noise. Its researchers are making some advances this year, including a paper published today in Nature, and they think they’ll have working qubits by the end of the year.

“One of our qubits will be as powerful as 1,000 or 10,000 of the noisier qubits,” Microsoft’s Julie Love, director of quantum computing business development, told me a few weeks ago in a Microsoft boardroom near New York’s Times Square.

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