John Marcus Zhan
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Scientists at Bell Labs yesterday launched an experimental machine that uses light pulses instead of current to calculate.
Although this machine is very rough, a more advanced version may fundamentally increase the power of the computer.
In a few years, the new device, known as an optical computer, will be 1,000 times faster than the most powerful traditional machine.
More importantly, researchers at Bell Labs say, this optical system may process information in ways that today's machines cannot achieve, potentially allowing computers to perform millions of tasks at the same time, and can be easily reconfigured to solve new problems.
Finding faster computers has become the holy grail for researchers.
For example, more powerful computers are needed to map the structure of human genes and to collect and analyze the large amount of data generated by the governmentfinanced atom-
The crushing plan is currently being planned in Texas.
Advertising optical computers are expected to be available in the early next century.
The device, launched yesterday, is based on a synthesis of new technologies developed over the past five years and is the first publicly presented processor example that will be at the heart of such computers.
One of its chief architects compared it to the plane of the Wright brothers.
In the emerging field of optical computing, other researchers say the progress of Bell Labs is significant.
They say the work led by Huang Guangyu is the most advanced work in the world.
Some computer scientists say that the technology on which the optical processor is based may be as big a breakthrough as the transistor invented by Bell Labs 40 years ago, the research department of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
But other computer scientists point out that there are still huge obstacles to optical computers.
The equipment launched yesterday was less than 1 feet high, about the size of the dining hall table, unlike the equipment in any other computer.
No circuit boards and silicon chips;
The machine consists of laser, lens and mirror.
Like a processor in a traditional computer, the optical processor is based on the digital "switch" that performs the calculation ".
Quickly turn on and off a set of laser beams and combine them with other arrays for simple addition and subtraction.
The lens focuses and guides the beam, and the Mirror passes the beam to other optical switches.
Due to the unique properties of light, the optical computer shows hope.
The limitations on existing computers are largely established by bottlenecks that limit the amount of data that can be processed at a time.
The optical computer will use not electrons, but laser beams composed of photon streams.
Unlike conventional electron lines, the beam can intersect without losing data.
Therefore, the optical computer will be more interconnected than the electronic computer, so that it is easier to solve problems with a large amount of data.
In short, the use of light rather than electricity to calculate and process data is equivalent to eliminating traffic jams in New York City by allowing cars and taxis to cross each other at intersections, rather than collisions.
The light-based computer will be ideal for routing the phone, and as the beam is transmitted over fiber, the phone is increasingly transmittedoptic cables.
Such a computer will be more effective because it will eliminate the need to convert the light pulse carrying the sound into a central electronic pulse
As must be done now, the office switches and then switches again.
"Parallel Computing" can also be used for tasks that require "Parallel Computing" where the processor processes millions of tasks at the same time.
These tasks include image recognition.
For example, recognize a face in a safety system, or act as the "eye" for a robot to assemble a product on a factory floor "--
It is easier to calculate the most difficult problems used by today's supercomputer.
The Pentagon has invested in optical computing to try to satisfy the "Star Wars"-missile system.
In addition, the researchers said that the optical computer will be much more flexible than the electronic computer.
Since their circuit will consist of a laser beam rather than a wire etched in silicon like today's computer, the optical computer will easily be reconfigured to solve new problems.
These new machines will also have an amazing ability to carry information.
Future optical processors will be able to process data equivalent to all telephone conversations in the world at the same time.
An optical computer will be able to retrieve this data faster than today's computer.
Throughout the library in gulp'', going to the library and being able to read information from a book is different from being able to read it from all the books in the library at the same time, he said.
Huang, a leading optical computing researcher, leads the Bell Lab team in Holmdale, New York. J.
This is the pursuit of new technology. Mr.
In the face of some doubts, Mr. Huang said, he has been an avid champion of optical computers for ten years, and the prototype, known as a digital optical processor, is only the first step towards a more powerful computer.
"Like the Wright brothers," he said.
This is a technical milestone.
Other researchers also believe this progress is important.
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"Bell Labs group is likely to have an impact by the end of the century," Henry J said . "
Caulfield, Director, Applied Optics Center, University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Under the "Star Wars" stimulus of "Star Wars" financing, some American universities are studying optical computing.
In addition to Bell Labs, the company's research center is also working.
The United States seems to be ahead of Japan and Europe in this area.
The Japanese have all the equipment and a good army, he said.
"But in this aspect of the equipment World, the United States is still the leader.
But other computer scientists have pointed out the obstacles that optical computers still face.
First of all, the technology must be miniature so that millions of optical switches can be placed on a small chip like a semiconductor, so that they can be large-scale
So the manufacturing cost is much lower.
On the other hand, the programming of machines capable of performing many tasks at the same time is still in its infancy.
"Initially, advertising may only be useful for a very limited set of questions," J. Said . "
Albert Matthews is the technical director of computer maker micrity in Palo Alto, California.
"They won't replace traditional transistors very quickly, and it's a danger that people will end up disappointed if they overadvertise optical technology now.
One obstacle overcomes another potential obstacle.
This has been overcome, says Bell researchers.
The optical switch can be configured as a storage device like a wire circuit on a silicon chip.
The Bell Laboratory installation launched yesterday is rough according to modern micro-electronics computing standards.
While today's most complex integrated circuits have more than 4 million electronic switches called transistors, Bell Labs optical processors consist of only four arrays, each with 32 optical switches.
8 laser diodes provide light for the system.
Computer programs and peripherals that allow machines to do useful things still don't exist.
Therefore, its performance cannot be compared with the traditional computer.
But with a measurement that can be done --
The speed index, called the number of cycles per second
The prototype will soon run as fast as today's supercomputer, researchers say.
But the device has the potential to calculate at a higher speed.
The core of the processor is an optical transistor called a symmetric self. electro-optic-
Effect equipment, or S-Seed's.
They work by quickly turning a laser on and off
The equivalent value of the switch current switch.
They can be turned on and off billions of times per second.
The way the switch works like this: it becomes transparent when applied voltage, allowing the laser to pass through.
Aligning the second beam with a less powerful beam will make it opaque.
The switch creates an optical equivalent of "1" or "0", which is the basic element in the calculation.
How to program these machines is an unsolved problem for optical computer designers.
Computers that work in parallel are always more difficult to program than traditional computers, which perform a program at a time.
To overcome this obstacle, sir.
He came up with a concept he called "computing origami.
This is a process through which big problems with large amounts of data can be sorted, or "collapsed" so that parallel computers can calculate it efficiently.
Bell Lab has applied for a Mr. Huang's idea. S-
Scientists say seeds are promising because they are made in a process used for mass productionSilicon production-
Based on micro-electronic circuits.
Seed is made with another material that can achieve a faster switching speed-arsenic-aluminum.
Advertising Bell Labs is now selling new optical switches for independent research projects.
"This work is very important," said John musorris, a Silicon Valley computer designer, "because eventually these devices will become transistors in the 21 st century.
"Researchers want to learn how to use thousands or millions of S-
Seed optical switch.
They are also working on micro lasers, which will allow the optical processor to be scaled down from the current desktop size to the size that matches today's nails
Semiconductor chip size
The future of the optical computer may be a solid three
Thousands or millions of laser-flashing blocksCaulfield said.
A version of this article appears on page A00001, national edition, January 30, 1990, with the title: laser devices may be the key to faster computers.