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Quantum computer revolves around just 5 atoms

It could lead to quantum systems on a grand scale.

Rodolfo Goulart Sabatino/Getty Images

It's no mean feat to find the factors of a very large number -- even a supercomputer can take years to find all the multipliers. However, MIT researchers have found a way to clear this massive hurdle. They've built a quantum computer that discovers number factors using just five atoms. Four of the atoms are turned into logic gates using laser pulses that put them into superpositions (where they maintain two different energy states at once), while the fifth atom stores and delivers answers. The result is a computer that not only calculates solutions much more efficiently than existing quantum systems, but scales relatively easily. Need to get the factors for a larger number? Introduce more atoms.

It's a one-trick pony at the moment (it can only get factors for the number 15), and a truly complex computer would require "thousands" of simultaneous laser blasts to work. However, it could have big ramifications for the security world. A sufficiently powerful machine could end the use of any encryption that depends on factoring -- a government agency or hacking team could easily crack codes that are otherwise near-impenetrable. On a basic level, this quantum factoring could also help solve math problems involving extremely large numbers (say, universe-scale calculations) that would normally be too daunting.

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