×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Researchers Building Computers That Run on Light

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the heliotropic-machines dept.

Technology 133

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers in England are attempting to build a desktop computer that runs on light rather than electronics. A $1.6 million research project starting in June at the University of Bath is focused on developing attosecond technology, which refers to continuously emitting light pulses that last just a billion-billionth of a second."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

133 comments

first post! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18355947)

poop!

How about one that (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18355957)

runs on sperm! Mine would be a supercomputer!!

Attosecond pulses of light? (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18355949)

Nothing to see here... Brilliant!

Re:Attosecond pulses of light? (3, Funny)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356029)

(Just reminded me of that old commercial... )

Look fast! The hands on this watch are about to... disappear! That's because they aren't hands at all! They're Electronic!... Pulses!... of Light!

No Electronics???? (5, Funny)

dunc78 (583090) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356377)

I didn't RTFA, but hey, this is slashdot, it wouldn't be the same if I did. It is great to see that people can process light without the use of electronics.

Does it run Linux? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356577)

Soon, haxx0rz can r00t boxen at the speed of light!

Re:Attosecond pulses of light? (1)

Propaganda13 (312548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356625)

So is this an analog or digital computer?

Re:Attosecond pulses of light? (1)

Zantetsuken (935350) | more than 7 years ago | (#18357201)

not that I read TFA, but I'm guessing they are attempting to replace the semiconductor transistors with ones made of light - that is, I suppose it would be something akin to replacing copper wire with fiber optic...

Re:Attosecond pulses of light? (1)

Propaganda13 (312548) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358361)

Sorry, just trying to be clever. Guess I need practice. Light simultaneously exhibits properties of both waves(analog) and particles(digital).

mod parent up! (1)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 7 years ago | (#18357305)

Best. Pun. Ever.

Mod parent up for funny and for insightful!

(E'en tho 'twere but a flash of insight...)

gghz (1)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18355953)

billion-billionth of a second

So whats that a giga-gigahertz?

Re:gghz (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356093)

Wouldn't a billion-billionth of a second be one second? I would have said billionth of a billionth if I didn't want to use an uncommonly large prefix.

Re:gghz (2, Funny)

mastershake_phd (1050150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356187)

Wouldn't a billion-billionth of a second be one second? I would have said billionth of a billionth if I didn't want to use an uncommonly large prefix.

A billion-billionths of a second = 1 second.

Re:gghz (2, Informative)

podwich (766178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356855)

A billion billionths of a second = 1 second.
A billion-billionths of a second = 1E-18 seconds.

Re:gghz (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356229)

Actually, if I have two halves, I have a whole. If I have four quarters, I have a whole. If I have a billion billionths, I have a whole. Or maybe I'm reading it wrong...

Re:gghz (1)

shawb (16347) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356487)

I think it was intended more as a (billion-billion)th.

Depends. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356401)

This is an English Press Release about an English University. How do we know it's not an English billion? (That would make it a giga-giga-gigahertz.) Sure, technology is usually metric, but the English have been rebelling against such European standards for decades. (Bath, being a Roman city, is probably still using Roman units, not Imperial units.)

Re:Depends. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356765)

UK officially uses short scale billions as of 1974 (same as USA) During the 1800s France widely converted to the short scale, and was followed by the USA, which began teaching it in schools. Many French encyclopedias of the 19th century either omitted the long scale system or called it "a now obsolete system". However The Journal Officiel (the official French gazette) confirmed the official French use of the long scale in 1948 and the Italian government officially confirmed the long scale in 1994. Go figure...

Re:Depends. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18358853)

Meanwhile the US *still*... I must say it again... *still*, uses imperial measurements.
Oh the science that could have been done (and been understood by all) and the rockets that could have been saved from being blown up by software, if only the damn Americans would learn how to use the metric system. It really isn't so hard. Look, it's just like counting. You can count can't you?

Re:Depends. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18358973)

It's really only the engineers. The rest of us (academics at least) prefer metric. Metric is now taught in the school systems, and all science classes expect students to use the metric, not the standard system. Engineers though don't move so fast, partly due to backwards compatability. Retooling every factory in the US is a problem, so they don't, but then everything is still in standard, so the new factories are in standard to... etc. etc. It's sort of like the internet switching over to IPv6. Because no-one can, or at least is willing, to say "on this day a giant switch will be flipped, and the world will change" the switch just doesn't happen at all.

Has to be considered (0)

wetfeetl33t (935949) | more than 7 years ago | (#18355963)

Imagine a beowulf cluster of those!

Obligatory (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356007)

But does it run Linux? That has to be considered first!

Re:Obligatory (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356111)

Oh, worry not; it will.

The question is: how long will it take Gentoo to compile? A second? Two?

Re:Obligatory (1)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356921)

The question is: how long will it take Gentoo to compile?
The answer, of course, is: it all depends on how many infinite loops are encountered during compilation.

Re:Has to be considered (0)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356171)

I, for one, welcome our linux-based, beowulf-clustered, optical CPU overlords, you insensitive clod! Think of the children who'll have faster than light atto-pr0n capabilities!!1!

I think I skipped a few. No matter. Faster machines == faster pr0n, everyone wins!

(One, two, three, four, one) (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356285)

Imagine a beowulf cluster of those!

(One, two, three, four,

one,) And he was

BLInded by the

light (two, three,) wrapped

up, like a deuce, another

runner in the night. (four, ...

Re:Has to be considered (0, Redundant)

DeathElk (883654) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356493)

Or a beowulf cluster of sharks with those light 'puter things strapped on, coming from Soviet Russia where beowulf shark light 'puter thingys process... oh forget it.

Light bulb (3, Funny)

Atario (673917) | more than 7 years ago | (#18355969)

I can give you all the attosecond pulses of light you want -- as long as they're all ones.

Re:Light bulb (2, Funny)

omeomi (675045) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356519)

I can give you all the attosecond pulses of light you want -- as long as they're all ones.

or all zeros...

Re:Light bulb (1)

77Punker (673758) | more than 7 years ago | (#18357557)

I hope I'm not ruining your joke, but you'd need to make sure you using NRZ encoding. Because of the NRZ encoding, you'd need an impossibly good clock on the receiving end to know exactly how many ones you actually got.

Invention of the Light Saber? (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356077)

If the light pulses only last a certain amount of time, could you get them to last something like 1/3^8 seconds?

Re:Invention of the Light Saber? (1)

dunc78 (583090) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356409)

That would be great, but then your light saber would travel away from you at the speed of light. You would have 1 meter long pulses traveling through space.

For you folks in the US (3, Funny)

wilsonthecat (1043880) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356081)

That is England, Europe.

Re:For you folks in the US (4, Funny)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356135)

Land of Eng? WTF is an Eng?

Re:For you folks in the US (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356573)

Actually, it is a little known fact that England is actually recursive.

Therefore, the Eng in England actually means "England."

- Brinceton Chilchurch

Re:For you folks in the US (2, Interesting)

arkhan_jg (618674) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358369)

WTF is an Eng?

Someone who lives in England, obviously ;) Seriously though, it comes from Land of the Angles, named after the germanic settlers from Angeln, in what is now Germany. They, along with the saxons were the predominant cultural group* in what became England, prior to 1066; collectively called Anglo-Saxons. Anglo-saxon is now a term often used to refer to the white western world from Britain and it's former colonies; as opposed to Hispanic or Gallic - you may have heard of WASPs...

*This is disputed; some historians/geneticists argue that the people were largely neolithic settlers and celts, while only the elites were supplanted by a few percentage ruling settlers from the continent in succesive invasions by romans, angles & saxons, vikings, normans, etc.

Re:For you folks in the US (1)

680x0 (467210) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356175)

I noticed that, which immediately brought to my mind the question:

Are those "billions" English billions (a million million, or 10^12) or American billions (a thousand million, or 10^9)? So, is an attosecond 10^-24 seconds, or 10^-18 seconds?

Re:For you folks in the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356233)

atto- (symbol a) is an SI prefix to a unit and means that it is 1018 times this unit. Examples are one attosecond or one attometre (U.S. spelling attometer).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atto [wikipedia.org]

Re:For you folks in the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356509)

atto- (symbol a) is an SI prefix to a unit and means that it is 1018 times this unit.

1018? That's an odd number to dedicate a prefix to.

(Yes, yes, I realize you meant 10^18.)

Re:For you folks in the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356617)

I'm still waiting for the reactions of the University of Bed and University of Beyond to this news.

No more Van-Eck security risks (5, Interesting)

cyberbob2351 (1075435) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356085)

I for one would embrace such a revolution.

Modern photonics, if it works within a computer, will make it impossible to eavesdrop on a computer with a van-eck style of a attack. Granted, van eck phreaking a VGA cable may be doable (barely), and performing similar snoops on a motherboard may seem incredibly difficult even by today's standards, it is within the realm of possibility. Take a look at the field of acoustic cryptanalysis [mit.edu] and its potential.

Now extend that into the electromagnetic spectrum, give yourself a very powerful broadband software defined radio and a good isolated faraday cage, and could it be possible to mount a similar attack electronically?

If photonics take over, we will for once be in a safe-zone of knowing once and for all that no overly powerful overseeing entity will be able to eavesdrop on any kind of electromagnetic emissions, so long as you don't have any light leaks.

Re:No more Van-Eck security risks (1)

DiscoLizard (925782) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356353)

Yes, but you have to make sure you isolate the continuum transfunctioner from the egress of the nucleonics based dialup defined ham radio.

Re:No more Van-Eck security risks (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18358493)

That'd be easy to fix, just reverse the polarity!

Re:No more Van-Eck security risks (2, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358059)

If photonics take over, we will for once be in a safe-zone of knowing once and for all that no overly powerful overseeing entity will be able to eavesdrop on any kind of electromagnetic emissions, so long as you don't have any light leaks.

Doesn't matter. Most meaningful cracking has a social component anyway. Or based on easily deduced patterns of human behavior. Or the fact that 'p@55word' just isn't as tricksy as some people seem to think.

Oh fuck (5, Insightful)

joto (134244) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356097)

Researchers in England are attempting to build a desktop computer that runs on light rather than electronics.

No, they aren't! The article didn't mention desktop computers at all. As expected, this is basic research on photonics. The researchers are nowhere closer to build a desktop computer that run on light, than they are to build a desktop computer that runs on steam and valves. Whether it is the submitters or editors who are idiots is hard to tell, but my guess is that both of them would score pretty well on that scale! Maybe we should build desktop computers of them?

Be fair. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356357)

The original article does indeed talk about being closer to desktop computers that use photonics, as does the news article that is directly linked to from Slashdot. Even though the main body of the article doesn't talk about desktop computing, the strong implication of the press release is that that is exactly what the researchers are working on. This is far from the worst headline ever and is actually a pretty decent writeup, even if it is only of the first paragraph.

Oh pssssst! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356361)

"The researchers are nowhere closer to build a desktop computer that run on light, than they are to build a desktop computer that runs on steam and valves."

Oh I don't know. Steampunk [wikipedia.org] is pretty cool.

They're All Wet (4, Funny)

moehoward (668736) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356103)


They're all wet. The University of Shower has already disproven most of this. Even the lesser known School of Sponge Bath has taken a "dim" view.

I know, I know. "Light"en up...

Stop me now before my Karma takes a Bath.

Consumable resource (3, Funny)

Ikyaat (764422) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356117)

So if it runs on light would it make light a consumable resource?

What happens when we run out of light and have to look for alternative sources of lightergy?

This is the first I've heard of this. (3, Funny)

Seumas (6865) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356131)

I had not heard of this before. I guess I must have been in the dark.

Thanks, I'll be here all week.

Seizures (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356213)

One billion billion flashes per second? I hope it comes with a warning about triggering seizures...

A comupter that runs on light! (1)

Heir Of The Mess (939658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356237)

Yes! No more electricity bills, just put your computer in the sun. Now all those people living in huts in the desert can have computers running. Now all I need is a computer that runs on light.

Optical computing is a dead end (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356245)

Optical computing is this wonderfully elaborate field for which the critical component - an optical transistor - exists only in imagination. Simply put, matter and electromagnetism just don't interact strongly enough to make one of this things feasible. It's sort of like cold fusion - it's a technology that's perpetually one decade away.

Re:Optical computing is a dead end (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356579)

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000625A 6-6ECF-1CE2-95FB809EC588EF21 [sciam.com]

If you browse through I think, the Dec issues over the last couple years or so, one has a good article on photonic bandgap crystals. However tehe structures are still quite large, so a transistor would be huge if they made one.

Re:Optical computing is a dead end (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358273)

Indeed. And if anyone doesn't know, having a particular bandgap structure is what makes semiconductors semiconductors. Note: Having a bandgap structure does not make a material a semiconductor, rather certain characteristics of the bandgap structure make a semiconductor.

gates? square waves? (1)

anonymous_but_brave (1075911) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356331)

Not explained are the basics of how such a computer would work, even in the extended article [bath.ac.uk] ; i.e., how do they make a basic AND/OR gate? Optical switches tend to be orders of magnitude more complex that similar switches in electronics.

From TFA: "But so far photonics can use light whose waveform is in one shape only - a curve known as a sine wave"
I am not an expert in quantum physics, but I believe this to be a basic property of light. Are these researchers endeavoring to create a new type of particle? On the other hand, the author of this article goes by the name "Alpha Doggs" (yes, with 2 g's)....

In the long term (1, Interesting)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356399)

In the long term the common consumer and investor must approach this technology cautiously. We must remember the cycle that we went through with electronics. That cycle will be repeated with photonics. First they will create an AND gate, then an OR gate, then higher order functions, then the functions will be arranged on a die to make a processor, then the processors will begin to differentiate and will inherit different functions, then the processors will begin to aggregate and some processors will assimilate others. Eventually the architecture of processors will stabilize and they will begin to accelerate.

Except that, since we've been through the logical darwinian evolution of electronics once already, we should be able to refine most of these steps. Don't be caught upgrading your photonic computer once a year for every 100 MHz (or comparable measure of units) increase in the main processor. Don't be roped into investing in every half-ass component chip maker.

It will be highly enlightening to see how the photonics industry develops after the electronics industry already cut the path once.

Personally I'm waiting to see them develop bidirectional logic gates. Electrons are localized enough that current computer technology relies on logic gates functioning, for the most part, in one direction. There isn't much feedback. With photonics I fully expect to see logical functions whose inputs and results are codependent.

Has anyone studied the possibilities of programming using bidirectional logic?

Re:In the long term (2, Informative)

LincolnQ (648660) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356983)

Has anyone studied the possibilities of programming using bidirectional logic?

Feynman has. In his _Lectures on Computing_, he talks about the ramifications of bidirectional gates (reversible computing, but with a cost in complexity) in the context of entropy conservation. It's pretty interesting stuff.

But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356475)

Does it run Linux?

Future-proof (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356585)

A billion-billionth second should be enough for anyone!

Billion billionths (1)

Quantam (870027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356593)

continuously emitting light pulses that last just a billion-billionth of a second.

A billion billionths of a second! That sounds very fast indeed; around 1 Hz!

Re:Billion billionths (1)

jhfry (829244) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358097)

That's exactly what I thought when I read it. Since when can you take a number and describe it by using units like a preschooler.

I remember once when I had a million thousand dollars... or so my son told me anyway.

If they said that it was the equivalent of 1 billionth of a billionth of a second, I'd make sense. Or perhaps they could just say that it so fast that 1x10^18 pulses can occur every second. (not sure if that's the correct conversion).

Anyway... that one comment really made the submitter sound like a child.

I have had one for a long time... (1)

Brad1138 (590148) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356733)

It's not real powerful but it runs on light. Very similar to this [intrinsica...uments.com] .

Bogus science? (3, Informative)

purify0583 (1063046) | more than 7 years ago | (#18356793)

After reading the real article from the Uni of Bath site containing these few sentences...

The continual series of short bursts of light will not only dramatically affect technology - it will also advance physics by giving researchers the chance to look inside the atom.
and

By sending the light in short bursts into an atom, they will be able to work out the movements of electrons, the tiny negatively charged particles that orbit the atom's nucleus.
Heisenberg what? Hrm.. Well the story seems to really be about the fact that they got a really phat grant for their optics research, but they appear to be really far away from doing anything new or building anything practical. So Im guessing that they really arent really trying to violate Heisenberg; it probably just PR grant-getting lingo (the whole article is littered with it...from atto-second to optical computing to medical lasers). Congrats on the grant, but Im sort of disappointed there is nothing newsworthy other than the fact that they got a grant.

Re:Bogus science? (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358965)

It's called a Heisenberg Compensator. And it got about time they invented it. Now I hope they got going on the next part of the teleporter. I tired of having to pass through every point B when I travel from A to C.

Obligatory (old TV ad version) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18356895)

I said I wanted a BUD light!

This kinda speed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18357545)

deserves a great big attaboy.

light to lasers to leia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18357675)

i predict that after light will be lazer, after lazer there will be specific high freq spectrum lasers, after that there will be multispectrum laser, after that princess Leia will show up as a hologram in the processor asking for help, or is that this new windows BSOD

I'll believe it when I see it.. (1)

SpaghettiCoder (1073236) | more than 7 years ago | (#18357773)

.. and that's not going to happen.

Mission accomplished, in terms of writing a PhD proposal that wouldn't seem dull.

Think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18357965)

... maybe one day we can run Vista fast enough to be functional.

Attosecond? (3, Interesting)

plasmonicfocus (1041558) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358025)

To be legitimately called attosecond pulse, it must be shorter 100 attoseconds (10^-16 seconds). That would mean that one would need > 10^16 Hz of bandwidth just to obey basic fourier analysis, giving us a center free space wavelength of 30nm. It is pretty hard to call such an electromagnetic wave 'light', seeing as it is so deep into the hard UV, it's almost an x-ray ( 10^16 Hz of bandwidth.

Re:Attosecond? (3, Informative)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358207)

Just because something is light, does not make it visible light. Technically speaking, x-rays are a form of light. Admittedly a realatively useless for computing form of light, but still.

speed of light (2, Interesting)

dten (448141) | more than 7 years ago | (#18358547)

Might such a computing system display any fun behavior if carried aboard a vessel approaching the speed of light?
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...