By George Johnson

During this remarkably illustrative and punctiliously available examine some of the most exciting frontiers in technology and pcs, award-winning manhattan instances author George Johnson finds the interesting international of quantum computing—the holy grail of great desktops the place the computing strength of unmarried atoms is harnassed to create machines able to nearly incredible calculations within the blink of an eye.As machine chips proceed to slash in dimension, scientists count on the tip of the line: a working laptop or computer during which each one swap is created from a unmarried atom. the sort of gadget could function lower than a special set of actual legislation: The legislation of quantum mechanics. Johnson lightly leads the curious outsider in the course of the unusually basic principles had to comprehend this dream, discussing the present country of the revolution, and finally assessing the amazing energy those machines can have to alter our international.

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4. Tic-tac-toe Obviously the computer can stave off defeat only by putting its X in the right-hand position of the middle row. Without worrying about the details, one can imagine how this situation might be captured by a combination of rackety Tinkertoy gates manipulating Xs and Os instead of l s and Os. First, number the cells of the board starting in the upper-left corner. If cell 4 AND cell 5 are marked 0, then put an X in cell 6 . One can almost hear the wooden shafts sliding into place. Tin kertoy Log ic 23 Referring to their list of moves and countermoves, the stu­ dents built Tinkertoy "circuits" for each one.

Quantum theory tells us that we can speak with assurance only about what, on average, whole hordes of photons will do. There is no way to predict the behavior of a solitary photon. The best one can do is to talk in probabilities: there is, say, a 99 percent chance that the photon will bounce at 45 degrees, and a whole range of lesser chances that it will follow other routes. This inherent uncertainty is part of the weave of the universe. The great achievement of the inventors of quantum mechan­ ics was to devise equations that describe this puzzling behavior.

All those possibilities have been experimentally ruled out. No matter how stringently one controls the variables, the perplexing effect remains: As far as can be determined, two photons traveling under identical conditions, fired one after the Playi ng with M i rrors 37 other, can hit the glass in the very same spot, and one will rico­ chet while the other one flies through (or both may ricochet or both may not) . It took physicists years to get used to what is now considered all but incontrovertible: Each photon makes the "decision" at random.

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