How a 1981 conference kickstarted today’s quantum computing era

Forty years ago, IBM researcher Charlie Bennett helped usher in the study of quantum mechanics’ impact on computing. IBM is still at it—and so is Bennett.

In May 1981, at a conference center housed in a chateau-style mansion outside Boston, a few dozen physicists and computer scientists gathered for a three-day meeting. The assembled brainpower was formidable: One attendee, Caltech’s Richard Feynman, was already a Nobel laureate and would earn a widespread reputation for genius when his 1985 memoir “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character became a bestseller. Numerous others, such as Paul Benioff, Arthur Burks, Freeman Dyson, Edward Fredkin, Rolf Landauer, John Wheeler, and Konrad Zuse, were among the most accomplished figures in their respective research areas.

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