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They could be the most powerful computers in the world – so perhaps it's no surprise that the biggest internet company on the planet is testing one out.

Last year Google purchased a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems in British Columbia, Canada, currently the only firm claiming to sell chips powered by exotic physics. However, this claim is controversial; some say D-Wave has yet to fully demonstrate its chips' quantum capabilities. Now a New Scientist investigation reveals Google's future plans, as well as the results of its recent tests to address the quantumness controversy.

In theory, quantum computers offer a huge advantage over ordinary PCs. Regular computers code information in binary bits that are either on or off – 0 or 1. But a quantum "qubit" can be both at the same time. This could let quantum machines crunch through certain problems, like searching a database, at blistering speeds even compared to a supercomputer. Such zippy calculation is an attraction for companies like Google that deal with large volumes of data.

Google certainly isn't alone in its quantum aspirations: its D-Wave Two machine is housed at NASA's Ames Research Center in California and maintained by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). New Scientist's freedom of information request to see the contract signed between the parties reveals they are pursuing a range of applications.

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