World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Optical computing

Article Id: WHEBN0002878626
Reproduction Date:

Title: Optical computing  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Mohammad Ataul Karim, Demetri Psaltis, Holography, Exploratory engineering, 3D printing
Collection: Classes of Computers, Emerging Technologies, Photonics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Optical computing

Optical or photonic computing uses photons produced by lasers or diodes for computation. For decades, photons have promised to allow a higher bandwidth than the electrons used in conventional computers.

Most research projects focus on replacing current computer components with optical equivalents, resulting in an optical digital computer system processing binary data. This approach appears to offer the best short-term prospects for commercial optical computing, since optical components could be integrated into traditional computers to produce an optical-electronic hybrid. However, optoelectronic devices lose 30% of their energy converting electrons into photons and back. This also slows transmission of messages. All-optical computers eliminate the need for optical-electrical-optical (OEO) conversions.[1]

Application-specific devices such as optical correlators have been designed that use principles of optical computing. Such devices can be used for detecting and tracking objects, for example [2] and classification of serial time-domain optical data, for example. [3]


  • Optical components for binary digital computer 1
    • Controversy 1.1
  • Misconceptions, challenges and prospects 2
  • Photonic logic 3
  • Further reading 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Optical components for binary digital computer

The fundamental building block of modern electronic computers is the transistor. To replace electronic components with optical ones, an equivalent optical transistor is required. This is achieved using materials with a non-linear refractive index. In particular, materials exist[4] where the intensity of incoming light affects the intensity of the light transmitted through the material in a similar manner to the voltage response of an electronic transistor. Such an "optical transistor"[5][6] can be used to create optical logic gates,[6] which in turn are assembled into the higher level components of the computer's CPU. These will be non linear crystals used to manipulate light beams into controlling others.


There are disagreements among researchers about the future capabilities of optical computers: will they be able to compete with semiconductor-based electronic computers on speed, power consumption, cost, and size. Opponents of the idea that optical computers can be competitive note that[7] real-world logic systems require "logic-level restoration, cascadability, fan-out and input–output isolation", all of which are currently provided by electronic transistors at low cost, low power, and high speed. For optical logic to be competitive beyond a few niche applications, major breakthroughs in non-linear optical device technology would be required, or perhaps a change in the nature of computing itself.

Misconceptions, challenges and prospects

A claimed advantage of optics is that it can reduce power consumption, but an optical communication system typically uses more power over short distances than an electronic one. This is because the shot noise of an optical communication channel is greater than the thermal noise of an electrical channel which, from information theory, means that more signal power is required to achieve the same data capacity. However, over longer distances and at greater data rates, the loss in electrical lines is larger than that of optical communications. As communication data rates rise, this distance becomes shorter and so the prospect of using optics in computing systems becomes more practical.

A significant challenge to optical computing is that computation is a nonlinear process in which multiple signals must interact. Light, which is an electromagnetic wave, can only interact with another electromagnetic wave in the presence of electrons in a material, and the strength of this interaction is much weaker for electromagnetic waves such as light than for the electronic signals in a conventional computer. This may result in the processing elements for an optical computer requiring more power and larger dimensions than those for a conventional electronic computer using transistors.

Photonic logic

Realization of a Photonic Controlled-NOT Gate for use in Quantum Computing

Photonic logic is the use of photons (light) in logic gates (NOT, AND, OR, NAND, NOR, XOR, XNOR). Switching is obtained using nonlinear optical effects when two or more signals are combined.[6]

Resonators are especially useful in photonic logic, since they allow a build-up of energy from constructive interference, thus enhancing optical nonlinear effects.

Other approaches currently being investigated include photonic logic at a molecular level, using photoluminescent chemicals. In a recent demonstration, Witlicki et al. performed logical operations using molecules and SERS.[8]

Further reading

  • Feitelson, Dror G. (1988). Optical Computing: A Survey for Computer Scientists. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  
  • McAulay, Alastair D. (1991). Optical Computer Architectures: The Application of Optical Concepts to Next Generation Computers. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.  
  • Ibrahim TA; Amarnath K; Kuo LC; Grover R; Van V; Ho PT (2004). "Photonic logic NOR gate based on two symmetric microring resonators". Opt Lett 29 (23): 2779–81.  
  • Biancardo M; Bignozzi C; Doyle H; Redmond G (2005). "A potential and ion switched molecular photonic logic gate". Chem. Commun. (31): 3918–20.  
  • Jahns, J.; Lee, S.H., eds. (1993). Optical Computing Hardware: Optical Computing. Elsevier Science.  
  • Barros S; Guan S; Alukaidey T (1997). "An MPP reconfigurable architecture using free-space optical interconnects and Petri net configuring". Journal of System Architecture 43 (6-7): 391–402.  
  • D. Goswami, "Optical Computing", Resonance, June 2003; ibid July 2003. Web Archive of
  • Main T; Feuerstein RJ; Jordan HF; Heuring VP; Feehrer J; Love CE (1994). "Implementation of a general-purpose stored-program digital optical computer". Applied Optics 33: 1619–28.  
  • Guan, T.S.; Barros, S.P.V. (April 1994). "Reconfigurable Multi-Behavioural Architecture using Free-Space Optical Communication". Proceedings of the IEEE International Workshop on Massively Parallel Processing using Optical Interconnections. IEEE. pp. 293–305.  
  • Guan, T.S.; Barros, S.P.V. (August 1994). "Parallel Processor Communications through Free-Space Optics". TENCON '94. IEEE Region 10's Ninth Annual International Conference. Theme: Frontiers of Computer Technology 2. IEEE. pp. 677–681.  
  • Guha A.; Ramnarayan R.; Derstine M. (1987). "Architectural issues in designing symbolic processors in optics". Proceedings of the 14th annual international symposium on Computer architecture (ISCA '87). ACM. pp. 145–151.  
  • K.-H. Brenner, Alan Huang: "Logic and architectures for digital optical computers (A)", J. Opt. Soc. Am., A 3, 62, (1986)
  • Brenner, K.-H. (1988). "A programmable optical processor based on symbolic substitution". Appl. Opt. 27 (9): 1687–91.  
  • Streibl N.; Brenner K.-H.; Huang A.; Jahns J.; Jewell J.L.; Lohmann A.W.; Miller D.A.B.; Murdocca M.J.; Prise M.E.; Sizer II T. (1989). "Digital Optics". Proc. IEEE 77 (12): 1954–69.  
  • NASA scientists working to improve optical computing technology, 2000
  • Optical solutions for NP-complete problems
  • Dolev, S.; Haist, T.; Mihai Oltean (2008). Optical SuperComputing: First International Workshop, OSC 2008, Vienna, Austria, August 26, 2008, Proceedings. Springer.  
  • Dolev, S.; Oltean, M. (2009). Optical Supercomputing: Second International Workshop, OSC 2009, Bertinoro, Italy, November 18–20, 2009, Proceedings. Springer.  
  • Dolev, S.; Oltean, M. (2011). Optical Supercomputing: Third International Workshop, OSC 2010, Bertinoro, Italy, November 17–19, 2010, Revised Selected Papers. Springer.  
  • Dolev, S.; Oltean, M. (2013). Optical Supercomputing: 4th International Workshop, OSC 2012, in Memory of H. John Caulfield, Bertinoro, Italy, July 19–21, 2012. Revised Selected Papers. Springer.  
  • Speed-of-light computing comes a step closer New Scientist
  • Caulfield H.; Dolev S. (2010). "Why future supercomputing requires optics". Nature Photonics 4: 261–263. 


  1. ^ Nolte, D.D. (2001). Mind at Light Speed: A New Kind of Intelligence. Simon and Schuster. p. 34.  
  2. ^ Feitelson, Dror G. (1988). "Chapter 3: Optical Image and Signal Processing". Optical Computing: A Survey for Computer Scientists. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  
  3. ^ Kim, S. K.; Goda, K.; Fard, A. M.; Jalali, B. (2011). "Optical time-domain analog pattern correlator for high-speed real-time image recognition". Optics Letters 36 (2): 220. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Jain, K.; Pratt, Jr., G. W. (1976). "Optical transistor". Appl. Phys. Lett. 28 (12): 719.  
  6. ^ a b c Jain, K. and Pratt, Jr., G. W., "Optical transistors and logic circuits embodying the same", U.S. Pat. 4,382,660, issued May 10, 1983.
  7. ^ Tucker, R.S. (2010). "The role of optics in computing". Nature Photonics 4: 405.  
  8. ^ Witlicki, Edward H.; Johnsen, Carsten; Hansen, Stinne W.; Silverstein, Daniel W.; Bottomley, Vincent J.; Jeppesen, Jan O.; Wong, Eric W.; Jensen, Lasse; Flood, Amar H. (2011). "Molecular Logic Gates Using Surface-Enhanced Raman-Scattered Light".  

External links

  • This Laser Trick's a Quantum Leap
  • Photonics Startup Pegs Q2'06 Production Date
  • Stopping light in quantum leap
  • Optical Switch Variations
  • High Bandwidth Optical Interconnects
  • (Movie: Computing by xeroxing on transparencies)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.