- Paperback: 228 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (February 10, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375726187
- ISBN-13: 978-0375726187
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,229,989 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Shortcut Through Time: The Path to the Quantum Computer Paperback – February 10, 2004
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“Sets a new standard for science writing . . . a delight and a rare gem.”—The New York Times
“Using metaphors instead of mathematics, George Johnson brings clarity to the strange world of the quantum computer.”— Scientific American
"He makes you smart and quantum computing real." -- Kevin Kelly, Wired
"Lucid and accessible. . . . Johnson does a fine job of telling a story that makes sense both to those who are completely at home in the mathematical theory of the subatomic world and to those whose reaction to the theory is abject terror. . . . A beguiling combination of clarity and enthusiasm." — New Scientist
From the Inside Flap
In this remarkably illustrative and thoroughly accessible look at one of the most intriguing frontiers in science and computers, award-winning "New York Times writer George Johnson reveals the fascinating world of quantum computing--the holy grail of super computers where the computing power of single atoms is harnassed to create machines capable of almost unimaginable calculations in the blink of an eye.
As computer chips continue to shrink in size, scientists anticipate the end of the road: A computer in which each switch is comprised of a single atom. Such a device would operate under a different set of physical laws: The laws of quantum mechanics. Johnson gently leads the curious outsider through the surprisingly simple ideas needed to understand this dream, discussing the current state of the revolution, and ultimately assessing the awesome power these machines could have to change our world.
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In a more basic sense, this is a book about the potential for computing devices that operate at the atomic level. This engaging and well-written book is, in various parts, a historical overview of computing, a vivid description of quantum mechanics and an exposition of the potential for quantum computing.
While written for a general audience, several advanced topics are covered in a unique manner, such as a good description of "NP-complete" (Nodeterministic Polynomial-time) problems.
Highly recommended for those with an interest in learning more about the potential for a new approach to computing.
What is interesting to the computer programmer is a) how the program is loaded, b) how processing is accomplished, and c) how the output is read. We can set an initial state by shining a laser on a bunch of particles (Johnson pretty much leaves it at that). The problem here is that setting the initial state of a program is not the same as loading the program itself, in other words, somewhere there must be a distinction between loading code and loading data, as well as code operating on data. It seemed to me that Johnson skirts the issue by ignoring this distinction and leaving the processing "black-box" to the collapse of probability waves of entangled particles whose initial state was set by a laser. The probability waves' collapse -- by what mechanism we never find out -- is somehow controlled by a poorly explained mathematical theory that normally governs the behavior of cellular automata. On the other hand, if code and data are one and the same, then it seems at first blush that the output should deterministically be known at the start, or that the output would be no more helpful than the input.
My feeling persists, however unfair, that science writing should be left to the rare scientists in each field who possess the pedagogic and literary skill to explain their work to a lay audience, and not left to science journalists. Throughout the text, I kept waiting for that spark that synthesizes the concepts into some feeling of real comprehension, but never got it. Perhaps, given Feynman's assessment of quantum mechanics, that elusive spark is impossible -- especially for a popular science book. On the other hand, maybe it is and "A Shortcut Through Time" isn't it.
(Problems that scale exponentially in the classical domain can scale linearly in the quantum world.)
Even more amazing, all this is accessible for a non-technical audience, with analogies, examples and illustrations.
If you've ever wondered what all the hoopla is about, read this and find out.