According to Moore’s law, formulated in 1965 by Intel founder Gordon Moore, the number of transistors in chips doubles every two years, increasing the power of chips without increasing their energy consumption. Unfortunately, we are reaching the limit of silicon and transistors won’t be able to shrink much longer. The law is reaching a saturation point.
There are several candidates among technologies to replace silicon. Some approaches are more related to materials science, identifying better candidates than silicon, such as graphene electronics. Optical computing is another promising approach. It replaces electrons with photons, which inherently travel at a much higher speed. Optical technologies are already used in communication where information is sent via optical fibers. Optical readers can burn and read CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray disks. These systems can be considered hybrid technologies since optical signals are translated into electrical signals for processing.
The biggest challenges for optical computing:
- Processing information through light is tricky: exotic materials are required
- Laser power consumption is higher than current transistors
- Miniaturization is not straightforward. Lasers cannot be miniaturized that much
The improvements of optics, advanced materials for photon-based computing, and lasers will pave the way to an all-optical computing system. It won’t be as powerful as a quantum computer, but it will be able to handle the same applications as existing computers in a much faster way. In other words, it will be an all-purpose computing system.
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