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Optical Computing: Computing that Replaces Electrons with Photons

By Dick Weisinger

Optical computing is the use of photons instead of electrons for computation. The advantage of photons are that they are zero mass, have no charge and move extremely quickly. Electronic move only at about one-tenth the speed of light.

Two potential advantages of optical (or photonic) computing include:

  • High-speed computations and small size.
  • Optical data processing can support parallel processing and fast switching speeds which will enable enormous computational power.

While there have been technological advances, the world of optical computing is still some ways away in the future, but progress is being made.

For example, a research collaboration between McMaster and Harvard Universities, investigated a gel that is light responsive that can be made to contract or swell based on the light that shines on it.

Joanna Aizenberg, Professor of Materials Science at Harvard, said that “materials science is changing. Self-regulated, adaptive materials capable of optimizing their own properties in response to environment replace static, energy-inefficient, externally regulated analogs. Our reversibly responsive material that controls light at exceptionally small intensities is yet another demonstration of this promising technological revolution.”

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