Exceeding the speed of light opens one up to all kinds of theoretical problems, but two Austrian researchers claim there's no reason we can't build a computer that processes information at superluminal speeds.

How fast is too fast? According to the laws of physics, the speed of light is a good boundary, as going beyond it opens you up to all sorts of paradoxes and space-time phenomena that are usually the stuff of sci-fi. But a couple of researchers in Austria have come up with a way to compute information faster than the speed of light.

The idea is not quite as crazy as it might sound, though you may wish to limber up your mind before delving deeper. It’s based on the same principle as that of quantum entanglement — the notion that two particles on opposite sides of the universe can be linked through their quantum states such that one cannot be adequately described without the other. That is, an action on one particle instantaneously influences its counterpart, even if they are separated by light years.

This quantum non-local phenomenon cannot transmit information faster than the speed of light, but according to Volkmar Putz and Karl Svozil at the Vienna University of Technology there’s no reason we can’t process information at superluminal speeds as long as doing so doesn’t create any time travel paradoxes.

All we need to do is create a medium conducive to the kind of pair formation and recombination described by entanglement. Such a material would have a refractive index of less than one. Then you simply build an optical computer around all of this controlled quantum mayhem, and presto: a computer that processes faster than the speed of light (in theory, anyhow).

We can’t move information faster than the speed of light, but it’s nice to know we could potentially process data at that speed. And supposedly a hypercomputer of this nature could digest and compute functions that are otherwise non-computable. But even so, the bright minds over at Technology Review can’t figure out exactly what to do with such a hypercomputer, and frankly neither can we. But if it can keep more than ten tabs in Firefox open simultaneously without crashing, we’ll take a dozen.

Technology Review