Download A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer by George Johnson PDF

By George Johnson

During this remarkably illustrative and punctiliously available examine essentially the most fascinating frontiers in technology and desktops, award-winning long island occasions author George Johnson finds the interesting international of quantum computing—the holy grail of large pcs the place the computing strength of unmarried atoms is harnassed to create machines able to nearly unbelievable calculations within the blink of an eye.As laptop chips proceed to cut back in measurement, scientists expect the tip of the line: a working laptop or computer during which each one swap is produced from a unmarried atom. any such equipment could function below a special set of actual legislation: The legislation of quantum mechanics. Johnson lightly leads the curious outsider throughout the unusually easy principles had to comprehend this dream, discussing the present kingdom of the revolution, and eventually assessing the notable strength those machines may have to alter our international.

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But there is a lot of shrinking yet to be done. Small as they are, the switches are each made from a billion or so atoms. If Moore's Law continues to hold, the logical outcome is a switch a single atom in size. A chip filled with so many submicroscopic devices would be formidable indeed. But something more fundamental happens at this scale. Quantum mechanics kicks in. Anyone who watches Star Trek has at least a dim notion of what that means: particles that can be in two or more places at once, that can seem at one moment like hard little specks of matter and the next like waves.

But for all the apparent differences, there is nothing going on inside the mightiest Macintosh or Dell or Compaq­ or for that matter in the supercomputers like Blue Mountain and Q-that cannot be done, in principle, with a stadium full of Geniacs, or even a sprawling contraption made from Tinker- 20 A S H O RT C U T T H R O U G H T I M E toys, like the one in the Boston museum. In the mid- 1970s, a group of computer-science students (including Daniel Hillis, who went on to start a company called Thinking Machines) gathered together more than a hundred Giant Engineer Tinker­ toy sets, assembling the thousands of wooden spokes and spools into a computer that played a mean game of tic-tac-toe.

Surely, they believed, each must be in a definite state from the moment it is spawned, turning one way or the other. The measurement simply confirms what was true all along. To believe otherwise, the scientists proposed, would lead to a contradiction. Suppose that several moments after the decay, you measured one of the photons, forcing it to "choose" between one spin or the other. Whichever direction it takes, the other photon must immediately snap into the opposite state so 44 A S H 0 RT C U T T H R 0 U G H T I M E that the total spin is 0 .

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