A Shortcut
through Time

May 6th, 2004

The New York Times
Science Writer
"The logical
is a computer
in which each switch
is composed
of a single atom."
George Johnson is a writer for The New York Times working from his office in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His book, Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics, was on the shortlist for the 2001 Aventis (formerly Rhone-Poulenc) Science Book Prize.

Three of his articles for the Times won the 1999 AAAS Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (large newspaper category) and one is included in The Best American Science Writing 2000 , edited by James Gleick. He has also written for The Atlantic Monthly , Time, Slate , and Wired.

Prepare for the next big – perhaps the biggest – breakthrough in the short history of the cyberworld: the development of the quantum computer.
The newest Pentium chip driving personal computers packs 40 million electronic switches onto a piece of silicon the size of a thumbnail. It is dramatically smaller and more powerful than anything that has come before it. If this incredible shrinking act continues, the logical culmination is a computer in which each switch is composed of a single atom. And at that point the miraculous – the actualization of quantum mechanics – becomes real. If atoms can be harnessed, society will be transformed: problems that could take forever to be solved on the supercomputers available today would be dispatched with ease. Quantum computing promises nothing less than a shortcut through time.
Johnson takes us back to the original idea of a computer – almost simple enough to be made of Tinkertoys – and then leads us through increasing levels of complexity to the soul of this remarkable new machine. He shows us how, in laboratories around the world, the revolution has already begun.

Talaya Webcam:
Johnson keeps a list of his favorite articles, some of which are on the Web. You can also see a picture of his high school garage band and a letter from Richard Nixon.
A RealAudio recording of his interview on NPR's Science Friday with John Horgan is available on the Web, as is his Slate Breakfast Table discussion with Matt Ridley.
George Johnson's Books:
Strange Beauty: Murray Gell-Mann and the Revolution in 20th-Century Physics . Knopf, 1999. Vintage paperback, 2000.
Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order . Knopf, 1995. Vintage paperback, 1996.
In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build the Worlds Inside Our Heads . Knopf, 1991. Vintage paperback, 1992.
Machinery of the Mind: Inside the New Science of Artificial Intelligence . Times Books, 1986. Tempus / Microsoft paperback, 1987.
Architects of Fear: Conspiracy Theories and Paranoia in American Politics . Tarcher/Houghton Mifflin, 1984.