By George Johnson

ISBN-10: 0375726187

ISBN-13: 9780375726187

During this remarkably illustrative and punctiliously available examine probably the most exciting frontiers in technology and desktops, award-winning manhattan instances author George Johnson unearths the attention-grabbing international of quantum computing—the holy grail of great pcs the place the computing strength of unmarried atoms is harnassed to create machines in a position to nearly unbelievable calculations within the blink of an eye.As computing device chips proceed to lessen in dimension, scientists count on the tip of the line: a working laptop or computer during which each one swap is constituted of a unmarried atom. this sort of machine might function below a unique set of actual legislation: The legislation of quantum mechanics. Johnson lightly leads the curious outsider in the course of the unusually uncomplicated principles had to comprehend this dream, discussing the present country of the revolution, and finally assessing the amazing strength those machines can have to alter our global.

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Uncertainty will reign-"quantum indetermi­ nacy" is the official name. At first this seems like terrible news. For years, as computer parts have grown ever smaller, threatening to eventually approach atomic size, engineers have worried about how to avoid quantum effects, how to keep them from scrambling the data, mashing together the Os and l s. But in the early 1 980s a few scientists such as the late Richard Feynman and a lesser­ known visionary named Paul Benioff began to consider the p ossibility that quantum uncertainty could someday be har­ nessed to make machines of unprecedented power.

It is made of an infinite number of infinitesimally tiny points. Planck showed mathematically that if, as everyone had long assumed, energy is also smooth and continuous­ made from an infinite number of infinitely tiny portions-then a hot, glowing object should radiate an infinite amount of light, an obviously absurd prediction. But if one assumed that the energy came in discrete little packets, or quanta, with a mini­ mum possible size, the paradox went away. 36 A S H O RT C U T T H R O U G H T I M E Einstein clinched the case a few years later, marshaling quan­ tum theory to explain a phenomenon called the photoelectric effect: Light shining on certain metals causes them to spit out electrons.

But how was anyone to carry out such an ambitious project with the meager, hum­ drum parts that had been supplied? Digging through the pile, I was crestfallen to find that the bulk of the kit consisted of some decidedly low-tech pieces of particle board called Masonite: a big square one and six smaller round disks, each drilled with concentric patterns of little holes. This was complemented by an assortment of hardware you might find in a kitchen junk drawer or a toolbox in the garage: ten flashlight bulbs and sockets, a battery and battery clamp, a spool of insulated wire, several dozen nuts, bolts, and washers, a bunch of small brass-plated staples (referred to in the typewritten instructions as ''jumpers"), and the tools for assembling this detritus into what would supposedly function as a digital computer-a hexagonal wrench for gripping bolts (a "spintite") and a screwdriver.

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