A new computer that is many times faster than today’s machines has arrived; Google and NASA have joined forces to unlock its power.

The two organisations are to announce today that they have bought a ‘quantum computer’, a device that is the long-held dream of physicists and promises to usher in a revolution in computing. They plan to use the new machine to solve data problems that are beyond traditional devices, including finding cures for diseases, modelling the world’s climate and having robots understand human speech.

Google and NASA, whom are believed to have spent millions of pounds to acquire the quantum computer, have bought it from D-Wave, a Canadian company that has gained financial backing from Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, and the CIA.

Its maker claims it takes computers into the realm of quantum mechanics, where normal logic no longer applies because one thing can be in two places at the same time. Today’s computers are digital and use “bits”. They work like a series of switches, which can either be turned on or off – on or zero. Quantum computers utilise “qubits”, so that a function can be either one or zero, or in a “mixed state” where they are both one and zero at the same time. This means that quantum computers can crunch enormous amounts of data – in seconds.

This week a study has been released which reveals that a D-Wave computer is 3,600 times faster than a conventional machine. Google said that it would use the quantum machine for “machine learning” to help solve some of the most challenging computer science problems. For example, Google could use the system to help its self-driving cars to recognise and react to other vehicles, road signs and people whilst on the road. This is a problem that the human brain can handle, but which is currently beyond computers.

The company said it would use the device to launch the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, housed in NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California. The groups will now invite leading researchers around the world to spend time working with it. The machine is the second quantum computer to be sold by D-Wave.