Only a few years ago quantum computing was sounding like many of the exaggerated claims of technologists, but such suspicions can now be dismissed. A company called D-Wave has solved the technical problems associated with the creation of these monsters and has started shipping.
Rumor has it that Google has ordered the latest machine and will be employing it for tasks that traditional computers just could not handle (machine learning and combinatorial problems).
I studied quantum mechanics at graduate and post-graduate levels and I can assure you that only the mathematics makes any sense – trying to understand what is going on physically is a futile exercise, although there are many interpretations. Quantum computers exploit the ability of systems to be in more than one state at a given time.
Some interpret this as single states in multiple universes – but it really doesn’t help. In any case D-Wave has discovered how to fabricate devices that can manifest this behavior using superconducting materials (materials that offer no electrical resistance at very low temperatures). It means computations that execute thousands (millions) of times faster than a conventional processor can achieve, with only a small fraction of the power consumption.
This is a brave new world and it immediately raises questions about the power that will delivered into the hands of the few. Don’t expect a quantum laptop any time soon.