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Boffins at the University of Southern California have been looking at applications for quantum computing, and discovered that it's going to make for some serious search engine tech.

Not that quantum computing is practical yet – the first quantum circuits are experimental devices at best – but it is possible to emulate a basic quantum computer. Using such an emulation, the researchers managed to create PageRank numbers for a "few thousand" web pages, at a rate which scaled much more slowly than traditional computing, and got a paper into the Physical Review Letters journal too.

That's important, as poor Google has to deal with an ever-increasing number of web pages, resulting in what the University tells us "is rumoured to be the largest numerical calculation carried out anywhere in the world" which has to be updated daily. Quantum computing creates PageRank scores at a rate which scales polylogarithmically with the number of pages being ranked, as opposed to a linear scale, and we're assured that this is a good thing.

Quantum computers can do really difficult mathematics really fast, and today's encryption standards are all based on the impracticality of doing hard maths – which is why so much of the funding comes from governments and the military. A working quantum computer of any scale would walk through today's encryption and governments want to make sure they've got next-generation ciphers, probably using quantum computing themselves, ready and waiting.

But cryptography isn't the only application of hard maths, as the team at Southern California have demonstrated. Once someone manages to build some decent quantum-based hardware we'll be able to search the ever-expanding web more quickly and break codes used by anyone who's not keeping up. ®

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