“American Experience” (AE) is a superb series of documentaries about quirky and transformational events of American History. It’s made by American public TV (more specifically, by the PBS station WGBH in Boston). AE has produced about 250 episodes in its 25 years of existence. Wikipedia has a complete list of all the episodes that AE has produced throughout the years.
I find most AE programs fascinating. Not only do they present the dry facts of history, but also its gossipy details, making it come alive as a vivid portrayal of human beings, with all their strengths and weaknesses. The AE and Ken Burns’ documentaries would make a wonderful complement to any American History course.
I would recommend any of the AE episodes. They are all great. However, one has to begin somewhere, and this being a blog about quantum computing, let me emphasize one recent episode entitled “Silicon Valley” about the history of microprocessors (the precursors and lesser siblings of quantum computers).
Here is the teaser, taken from the PBS website, for the “Silicon Valley” episode:
In 1957, decades before Steve Jobs dreamed up Apple or Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a group of eight brilliant young men defected from the Shockley Semiconductor Company in order to start their own transistor business. Their leader was 29-year-old Robert Noyce, a physicist with a brilliant mind and the affability of a born salesman who would co-invent the microchip — an essential component of nearly all modern electronics today, including computers, motor vehicles, cell phones and household appliances.
The entire film (82 mins.) and its transcript are available at this PBS webpage (Information magically available to anyone. What a wonderful age we live in, a golden age for education and research, reminiscent of 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Turks and the Renaissance Period officially began).
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The Wikipedia article on Noyce includes links to his milestone patents. Noyce, together with Gordon Moore and Andy Grove, went on to found the Intel company. Intel built the first microprocessor and is today the world’s largest semiconductor maker. A company that was once insanely great but which has lost its bearings and its once highly innovative spirit. I say this because Intel has done next to nothing to help develop the next generation of microprocessors, the quantum computer ones. (Related blog posts: Intel-The Reluctant Natural, and Intel Waffles)
Call me a zealot, or a fanatic, but there is no doubt in my mind that quantum computers will be built some day soon. As Lubos Motl pointed out recently and quite eloquently (see comment 47 here), there appears to be nothing in fundamental physics that forbids us from building QCs. Furthermore, over the last ten years, experimentalists have made smooth and substantial progress in taming the dragon of decoherence.
Now all we need is for our Quantum Noyce to show up. Surely, our Messiah 🙂 has already been born and is walking among us.
Other AE episodes of scientific & technological interest (this is a subset of the Wikipedia list of all AE episodes):
Edison’s Miracle of Light
Wright Stuff, The (on the Wright brothers)
Big Dream, Small Screen (on television)
Race for the Super Bomb
Wizard of Photography, The
Streamliners: America’s Lost Trains
Great Transatlantic Cable, The
Living Weapon, The (on biological weapons)
Grand Coulee Dam
Great Air Race of 1924, The
Satellite Sky, The
Race to the Moon
Richest Man in the World, The: Andrew Carnegie
Rockefellers, The (1)
Rockefellers, The (2)
Of course, all the Nova episodes are also of scientific & technological interest.