Microsoft steps back on quantum 'breakthrough' claim

Microsoft logo outside building
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There's an old saying that says the only people that have never made a mistake in their life are the ones that never tried to do anything, and Microsoft may be the latest proof of that. 

A two-dozen strong research team led by experts from the software giant has recently withdrawn a scientific paper on quantum computing released a few years ago.

The Microsoft team said it made the decision to withdraw the paper due to multiple errors that led to the wrong conclusions.

Unnecessary corrections

The paper concerned the Majorana particle, discovered in 1937 by Italian theoretical physicist Ettore Majorana, who had theorised that a certain type of particle can also be its own antiparticle.

Since tech giants have begun developing quantum computers, there has always been the challenge of making qubits (quantum cubits, essentially bits of information travelling through the computer system) less error-prone. Microsoft argued that could be achieved by creating qubits with the properties of the Majorana particle, and later on – in 2018 – released a paper claiming to have observed the particles’ existence.

While the paper had been described as a “breakthrough”, it also proved quite controversial, with not everyone agreed with its conclusions. University College London's Professor John Morton told the BBC the report is, “…one of those things that on paper look incredibly exciting. But physics has a habit of throwing up spanners in the works.”

Three years later, the Microsoft team has now retracted the paper, saying it “unnecessarily corrected” some of the data without stating it clearly enough, and that it made a graph misleading by labeling it wrong. "We can therefore no longer claim the observation of a quantized Majorana conductance and wish to retract this," the team was quoted in Nature.

Microsoft’s VP Zulfi Alam tried to see the glass as halfway full, describing the withdrawal as “an excellent example of the scientific process at work.”


Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.