We always knew that one day, quantum computers would be powerful enough to blow traditional processors out of the water. A new quantum simulator from the University of Sydney has, and we're quoting here, "the potential to perform calculations that would require a supercomputer larger than the size of the known universe." Mind = blown.
The thing to understand about quantum computers is that they operate in states of superposition, meaning that each quantum bit (or qubit) can be the equivalent of both a zero and a one at the same time. This is completely different from conventional computers, which have to pick just one state to be in. So, if you have one qubit, it can be in two states. If you have two qubits, it can be in four states. And, if you remember anything about exponential growth, you'll see that this is headed up to a fairly crazy number of states very very fast: ten qubits, for example, gives you just over 1,000 simultaneous possible states.
Researchers from the University of Sydney are now saying that they've developed a type of quantum computer based on a crystal that contains 300 qubits. 300 qubits means that hypothetically, this computer can simultaneously perform just over 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 calculations all at once. For the record, if you were to take every single atom in the observable universe and use all of them to construct a massive, traditional supercomputer, you'd run out of atoms before you got anywhere close to the level of performance that this quantum computer gets with just 300 atoms.
Now, quantum computers like this are still very specialized tools. This one, specifically, is a "quantum simulator," which means that it's been designed to simulate quantum systems themselves, something that's practically impossible to do with a traditional computer. So for example, this quantum computer can simulate the spin interactions of quantum magnetic fields, which may ultimately lead to new insights about high temperature superconductivity, a potentially transformative technology. Oh, and there's also something about "engineering totally new forms of quantum matter," and that sounds pretty cool too.