A pair of research teams at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Harvard University have demonstrated a new type of quantum logic gate and switch that could form the basis of quantum computers, according to this report at Popular Mechanics.
The big advance, it seems, is establishing a reliable way to put a rubidium atom into the mind-bending state of superposition, where it is both "on" and "off." Not only that, but the researchers have managed to create a mechanism for propagating this state to photons and having them share their state in common via quantum entanglement. These mechanisms could someday form the basis for a quantum computer, although scaling these things up to a sufficiently large scale is well beyond our current capabilities.
It's about at this point that my hillbilly-descended brain begins to shudder and emit steam. For further understanding and/or mental strain, try reading your way through the Wikipedia entry on quantum computing. It answers the strange but crucial question of how one might take advantage of a system built on non-deterministic quantum properties: using a whole new type of quantum algorithm. That oughta make programming interesting, and hey, the answer you get back has only a probability of being correct. Still, for many purposes (including notably the simulation of quantum systems in nature), quantum computers have the potential to offer massive speed improvements over traditional systems.
Perhaps computer science might one day explain why I am in a constant state of both wanting and not wanting Taco Bell and why that superposition gets collapsed at 2AM after a couple of beers.
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