The last fifty years have seen unprecedented gains made in the field of computation under what many would know to be Moore’s Law. This law in it’s simplest explanation is that every two years will yield double the amount of transistors on a chip half the size of the generation before. Regrettably for us the laws of physics and quantum physics both are soon to put an end to this rule. As transistors have continued to shrink we have approached and will very soon be at a size so small electrons start behaving erratically and the quantum laws begin to take over. Moore’s Law it seems will, once chips are being mass produced at this final size, come to an abrupt end by the hand of the Laws of Physics.
What if however it did not end at all? What if we instead of dying Moore’s Law simply evolved to the next form of computation? This evolution can and indeed will take place and the technology that will make it possible will be none other than Photonics. So then, what is the field Photonics? It is the harnessing of light itself to perform computations. The current world you live in relies entirely on electronics. As the name implies these devices use electrons from atomic structures to represent binary. An electron in a position is a one. No electron is a zero. The process is almost identical for photonics with the only difference being the use of photons for the computations instead of electrons. Note the emphasis on almost like electronics.
Photonics offer a range of benefits over conventional electronics, the first of which is simply that photons don’t interact with each other like electrons do. Electrons like to interact with each other and do so frequently. That problem is exponentially more challenging when you reach the size of current transistors which are measured by mere single digit nanometers. Photons however have no such impediment. When playing by the rules of conventional Physics they accomplish what we want them to without interacting between themselves.
That is only the beginning of photonic computation’s potential. Photons are both a wave and a particle in the current understanding of physics. Electrons are simply particles. This unique property of photons is game changing. As some would know (and even would be lucky enough to have in their homes), fiber optic cable can transmit internet data at blistering speeds when compared to other alternatives. One of the ways it does this is by using separate frequencies of light to carry separate messages. One beam of light can have dozens of different data streams within it. Now take that and put it inside a computation device and you begin to see the potential of this property. Light allows for many different operations to be performed using different frequencies! Combine this with light being twenty times faster than electrical flow and huge gains in computing power can be realized.
On the same note of both speed and bandwidth there is still another critical benefit to photonics. One so significant in fact it is still on the bleeding edge of current science. I am of course referring to quantum mechanics. This field and the wonderous things it can do for programming alone is going to upend the conventional computing industry, and it is directly connected to photonics. How? Because photons can be used for quantum entanglement! Entangled photons could be transported over fiber connections to your computer for unbreakable encryption. Photonic based computation chips could be seamlessly integrated with the quantum chips that will follow in years to come, serving to bridge the gap splendidly between two eras. An even more fascinating subset of this would even be allowing photonic chips to process entangled qbits and perform operations on fully encrypted data, something that while interesting I couldn’t begin to cover here nor will I attempt to.
By now I’m sure the case for photon based computation has been made evident. They are not only more efficient, but faster, cleaner, and higher in bandwidth. They can harness the new and novel aspects of quantum mechanics as well as the already useful aspects of being a wave and a particle. You aren’t the only one to arrive at this conclusion. In more recent years funding for research and mass production of photonic chips has become prevalent as they industry can sense the end to electronics. In the present electronic devices have begun to be a bottleneck with their speed and computational potential. Photonics will solve this. Light is the future of computation, not electricity.