The newest Pentium chip powering PCS and laptops contains 40 million electronic switches. If this shrinking continues, the logical culmination is a computer in which the switches are so tiny that each consists of an individual atom. And at that point quantum mechanics kicks in.
The newest Pentium chip powering PCs and laptops contains 40 million electronic switches packed onto a piece of silicon about the size of a thumbnail. Several years from now, if this incredible shrinking continues, a single chip will hold a billion switches, then a trillion. The logical culmination is a computer in which the switches are so tiny that each consists of an individual atom. At that point something miraculous happens: Quantum mechanics kick in. Anyone who follows the science news or watches 'Star Trek' has at least a notion of what that means: particles that can be in two or more places at once, that can seem one moment like hard little specks of matter and the next like waves. Atoms obey a peculiar logic of their own - and if it can be harnessed society will be transformed. Problems that would now take for ever even on a supercomputer would be solved almost instantly. Quantum computing promises nothing less than a shortcut through time. In this brief and totally absorbing book, we are brought to the front of one of the most engaging and far-reaching scientific dramas of this new century. The ticket for admission is a rough feel for a few basic ideas, and a willingness to suspend disbelief.
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George Johnson is a science writer for the New York Times. He is a former Alicia Patterson Fellow, a finalist for the prestigious Aventis Prize, and a recipient of the Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
A Shortcut Through Time by George Johnson
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