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Researchers Building Computers That Run on Light 133

Posted by samzenpus
from the heliotropic-machines dept.
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."
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Researchers Building Computers That Run on Light

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  • by Tackhead (54550) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:35PM (#18355949)
    Nothing to see here... Brilliant!
  • billion-billionth of a second

    So whats that a giga-gigahertz?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rrohbeck (944847)
      >So whats that a giga-gigahertz?
      Exahertz, EHz.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)
      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: (Score:2, Funny)

        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: (Score:2, Informative)

        by podwich (766178)
        A billion billionths of a second = 1 second.
        A billion-billionths of a second = 1E-18 seconds.
    • by erroneus (253617)
      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...
    • by rouge86 (608370)
      So whats that a giga-gigahertz?
      An exabyte
    • by jd (1658)
      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.)
      • Here in continental Europe, we use the English billion. We call the american billion a milliard.
        • by jd (1658)
          We call the american billion a milliard.

          So... that would make an American trillion a billiard?

    • by freeze128 (544774)
      Quagmire? Is that you?
    • Well, thousend gigahertz would be a terrahertz, and then we've got thousand terrahertz which would be a petaherts. Then a thousand petahertz is what we're looking for and that's an exahertz. closely followed by zettaherts and yottahertz.
  • Light bulb (Score:4, Funny)

    by Atario (673917) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:37PM (#18355969) Homepage
    I can give you all the attosecond pulses of light you want -- as long as they're all ones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by omeomi (675045)
      I can give you all the attosecond pulses of light you want -- as long as they're all ones.

      or all zeros...
    • by 77Punker (673758)
      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.
  • Would that be like having a transistor operating at one billion gigahertz?
  • If the light pulses only last a certain amount of time, could you get them to last something like 1/3^8 seconds?
    • by dunc78 (583090)
      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.
  • by wilsonthecat (1043880) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:45PM (#18356081)
    That is England, Europe.
    • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:49PM (#18356135) Homepage
      Land of Eng? WTF is an Eng?
      • by HungSoLow (809760)
        Land of ENGineering!
      • by jd (1658)
        Duh. It's an Ang with an Excent.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

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

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

        - Brinceton Chilchurch
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by arkhan_jg (618674)
        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
        • *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.
          so the romans got their tier 4 and 5?
        • by Weedlekin (836313)
          If they'd named it after the Saxons rather than the Angles it'd have ended up as Sexland (as was the case with Sussex, Essex, Middlesex, etc.), and both the language and people would be Sexish.
      • by Tjeerd (976354)
        The 'Eng' part of England means 'small, narrow' and that's because of the shape of England.
      • by Petersson (636253)
        Land of Eng? WTF is an Eng?
         


        It is where Englings live.

    • by 680x0 (467210)
      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?
  • by cyberbob2351 (1075435) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:45PM (#18356085) Homepage
    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.

    • Yes, but you have to make sure you isolate the continuum transfunctioner from the egress of the nucleonics based dialup defined ham radio.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        That'd be easy to fix, just reverse the polarity!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by joto (134244) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:46PM (#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?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by cyberbob2351 (1075435)
      My desktop computer runs on steam [steampowered.com], and has several valve products installed.

      You insensitive clod!

    • by jd (1658)
      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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Philotic (957984)
      Imagine a beowolf cluster of idiots! Actually, on second thought... don't...
  • by moehoward (668736) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:47PM (#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.
  • by Ikyaat (764422) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:47PM (#18356117) Homepage
    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?

    • What happens when we run out of light and have to look for alternative sources of lightergy?
      A lot of fumbling around in the dark, I imagine.
  • by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @07:49PM (#18356131)
    I had not heard of this before. I guess I must have been in the dark.

    Thanks, I'll be here all week.
  • One billion billion flashes per second? I hope it comes with a warning about triggering seizures...
  • 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 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.
  • 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?
  • Will said desktop be lightweight?
  • 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 assi
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LincolnQ (648660)
      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.
      • Feynman has. In his _Lectures on Computing_, he talks about the ramifications of bidirectional gates (reversible computing, but with a cost in complexity)

        Reading that was better than shooting a troll which was climbing out of The Pit with a double-barrel shotgun over the shoulder backwards.

        Reversible computing. Now there's something I'd like to write an OS for. :) Is there an academic descendent of his looking for grad students anywhere? I can relocate for the cost of a bus ticket.

    • by feepness (543479)
      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 assimil
  • 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!
    • by jhfry (829244)
      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 li
  • It's not real powerful but it runs on light. Very similar to this [intrinsica...uments.com].
  • Bogus science? (Score:3, Informative)

    by purify0583 (1063046) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @08:56PM (#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.
    • 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.
  • by PRMan (959735)
    But does it run Linux?
  • .. and that's not going to happen.

    Mission accomplished, in terms of writing a PhD proposal that wouldn't seem dull.
  • Attosecond? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plasmonicfocus (1041558) on Wednesday March 14, 2007 @11:54PM (#18358025) Homepage
    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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ravenshrike (808508)
      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.
  • by Monk Who Says Ni (1075173) on Thursday March 15, 2007 @01:20AM (#18358469) Journal
    Light? In my IT dungeon?

    Surely this is an act of war against pasty code monkeys.
  • speed of light (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dten (448141)
    Might such a computing system display any fun behavior if carried aboard a vessel approaching the speed of light?
  • Couldn't find anything interesting or worthy in this short article.

    The problem with opto-computing is the enormous amount of money spent on silicon based one (read Intel, AMD), that dwarfs the advantages you get from using light instead of plain silicon electronics.
    (Steve Jobs is rumoured to have considered opto-computing at one time for a personal computer)

    And no, you don't just replicate the AND, OR, etc .. gates. Because light can cross itself without disturbance of signal, it brings new properties.
    Namel
  • I had one of these things. It was a pocket calculator. I needed to be in a bright room or it didn't work. I don't think it was as fast as this though... :-p
  • by iiii (541004)
    So what.

    I'm working on a computer that runs on DARK!

  • by X3J11 (791922)

    "... emitting light pulses that last just a billion-billionth of a second."
    Why emit light pulses that last just a billion-billionth of a second when we could emit light pulses that last just a... million-millionth of a second? Mwa. Mwaha. Mwahahahaha.

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