Over 400 million transistors are packed on dual-core chips manufactured using Intel's 45nm process. That'll double soon, per Moore's Law. And it'll still be like computing with pebbles compared to quantum computing.

Quantum computing is a pretty complicated subjectâ€”uh, hello, quantum mechanics plus computers. I'm gonna keep it kinda basic, but recent breakthroughs like this one prove that you should definitely start paying attention to it. Some day, in the future, quantum computing will be cracking codes, powering web searches, and maybe, just maybe, lighting up our Star Trek-style holodecks.

Before we get to the quantum part, let's start with just "computing." It's about bits. They're the basic building block of computing information. They've got two statesâ€”0 or 1, on or off, true or false, you get the idea. But two defined states is key. When you add a bunch of bits together, usually 8 of 'em, you get a byte. As in kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and so on. Your digital photos, music, documents, they're all just long strings of 1s and 0s, segmented into 8-digit strands. Because of that binary setup, a classical computer operates by a certain kind of logic that makes it good at some kinds of computingâ€”the general stuff you do everydayâ€”but not so great at others, like finding ginormous prime factors (those things from math class), which are a big part of cracking codes.

Quantum computing operates by a different kind of logicâ€”it actually uses the rules of quantum mechanics to compute. Quantum bits, called qubits, are different from regular bits, because they don't just have two states. They can have multiple states, superpositionsâ€”they can be 0 or 1 or 0-1 or 0+1 or 0 and 1, all at the same time. It's a lot deeper than a regular old bit. A qubit's ability to exist in multiple statesâ€”the combo of all those being a superpositionâ€”opens up a big freakin' door of possibility for computational powah, because it can factor numbers at much more insanely fast speeds than standard computers.

Entanglementâ€”a quantum state that's all about tight correlations between systemsâ€”is the key to that. It's a pretty hard thing to describe, so I asked for some help from Boris Blinov, a professor at the University of Washington's Trapped Ion Quantum Computing Group. He turned to a take on SchrÃ¶dinger's cat to explain it: Basically, if you have a cat in a closed box, and poisonous gas is released. The cat is either dead, 0, or alive, 1. Until I open the box to find out, it exists in both statesâ€”a superposition. That superposition is destroyed when I measure it. But suppose I have two cats in two boxes that are correlated, and you go through the same thing. If I open one box and the cat's alive, it means the other cat is too, even if I never open the box. It's a quantum phenomenon that's a stronger correlation than you can get in classical physics, and because of that you can do something like this with quantum algorithmsâ€”change one part of the system, and the rest of it will respond accordingly, without changing the rest of the operation. That's part of the reason it's faster at certain kinds of calculations.