The computers or computers they have always relied on electricity for their operation. Although the former had more mechanical components than electronic, and if we are strict, the first analytical machines they were mechanical devices, electricity soon became part of the history of computing.
Electricity powers computers. Makes them work and transmits information and data between components through circuits, cables and other conductive elements. But a branch of computing is looking for an alternative: replace electricity with light. Optical computing promises a future with machines that consume little electricity and offer greater processing capacity.
But while many speak of the quantum computing, few echo the optical computing. Mainly because it is in an embryonic stage. More promises than facts, for the moment. However, all new technology started that way. What does optical computing aspire to?
Electrons versus photons
Traditional computing, which we use on a daily basis, is based on the use of electrons to transmit data, orders or information between the components of the computer. On the other hand, optical computing is committed to using light, that is, to the photons as transmitters of information. To get an idea, electricity travels through a copper wire at speeds of one millimeter per second. Light, on the other hand, travels almost 300,000 kilometers per second.
Of course, the exact figure depends on the medium that light uses to travel, but the differences are minimal compared to electricity. And that’s where the promises of optical computers lie. That higher speed translates into processing more data in less time.
To make an optical computer possible, elements and materials such as fiber optic cables, holographic memories, etc. enter. If the computer is purely logical or a hybrid between electronic and optical, electronic peripherals can be combined with optical elements. In this case, the binary code must be translated to light pulses through lasers. In contrast, in an optical computer, information is sent at all times by beams of light, in packets and waves.
Optical Computing and Moore’s Law
Optical computing, like quantum computing, is offered as an alternative to current technology, governed by transistors. The microprocessors current CPUs and graphics GPUs both use transistors, which are in charge of processing the electricity that reaches them and that transmits the binary code.
Transistors arose in the Bell Labs at the end of 1947. Since then they have been reduced in size to nanometers. The objective, to place in a processor the maximum number of transistors occupying the least possible space. Miniaturization to obtain more processing power in a smaller and smaller element. From this process of reducing the size of the transistors arises what is known as Moore’s Law. Formulated in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, it stated that the number of transistors in a microprocessor would double every two years: more power with the same electricity.
But Moore’s Law is now considered a thing of the past. On the one hand, because miniaturization levels have been achieved that exceed the law itself. And on the other hand, because physically there will come a time when it cannot be reduced further the size of the processors. The alternative?
From communication to computing
Optical technology already exists among us. The main example, the kilometers and kilometers of optical fibre wires that are scattered all over the world. Today’s communications are largely based on this technology, with permission from satellites. He too data storage It owes a lot to optics, in the form of optical discs (from CD to Blu-Ray, to DVD and other less popular variants). Thus, information processing is the next barrier to overcome.
However, there are certain limitations to make this possible. For now, the materials used to conduct light are deformed more frequently. In addition, the energy required to conduct light using high-power lasers makes the result an uneconomical computer from a monetary point of view.
Last year, the Wyss Institute from Harvard University announced the development of a new material that uses hydrogel and low power lasers to change the refractive index of non-linear materials, employees to conduct light in such computers. In practice, this means that materials can be designed to respond to light. changing its optical, chemical and physical properties. And thus facilitate the conduction of photons. The research also involved the McMaster University and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
For its part, an Anglo-Russian investigation between the University of Cambridge and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology announced this year, promises to advance optical computing optimizing light transmission. The idea is to multiply the amount of light waves sent. That is, instead of converting the classic binary signal into light waves, it is about going further: combining the light by multiplying the wave functions instead of adding them.
The future of optical computing is yet to be written. But although it does not receive as much attention as quantum computing, little by little it is making way and offering increasingly real improvements and results.
The article Everyone talks about quantum computing, what about optical computing? It was published in Explica.co.
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