Quantum computers are very, very fast. Instead of using the traditional approach of a string of 1's and 0's that are either turned on or off, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits.
Qubits take advantage of the weird behavior of quantum mechanics which means they can essentially be both on and off at the same time. This allows them to multitask and at least in some cases potentially run thousands of times faster than traditional computers.
The leader in quantum computing is a Canadian company called D-Wave. Their machines are not cheap to buy nor cheap to run. MIT's Technology Review reports both Lockheed Martin and Google likely paid in the $15 million range for their quantum computer.
And GigaOm has an interesting article on the expensive and difficult need to cool quantum computers to near absolute zero.
The picture on the right shows part of the D-Wave cooling tower.
So don't expect to see quantum computers at Best Buy anytime soon.
Google says they are going to focus their quantum computing efforts on machine learning applications.
According to a NY Times article, Google's Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, which is what they are calling their quantum computing entity,will focus on:
"machine learning, which is the way computers take note of patterns of information to improve their outputs. Personalized Internet search and predictions of traffic congestion based on GPS data are examples of machine learning. The field is particularly important for things like facial or voice recognition, biological behavior, or the management of very large and complex systems."
Quantum computing is potentially more than just a game changer for computing. It could fundamentally change pretty much everything from how we view the universe to humankind itself. Yes, this sounds more than a bit over the top. And yes, it's still years away.
But the potential power of quantum computing is nothing short of amazing.