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What are Optical Computers?

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  • Written By: Jessica Reed
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2014
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Optical computers, also known as a photonic computers, use photons instead of electrons to send signals. Photons are the basic particles that make up light. Lasers in the computer produce streams of light to use instead of the electrons. Several advantages exist from using light, which include faster speeds, smaller computers, and less heat.

Computers typically use an electric current to power the computer and its processes. The idea behind optical computers is to use light instead. Though small pieces of technology may use light to work, true optical computers do not yet exist. Researchers feel that over time technology will move toward the use of optical computers and the technology will advance enough to make them an everyday reality.

For a computer to function, it sends an electric current in and out of parts known as transistors. These transistors are switched on or off by these electric currents, and this sends a message to the computer. The basic idea behind an optical computer is to use light, made up of photons, in place of the electric current.

The advantages of optical computers and the use of photons instead of electrons are numerous. First, light creates virtually no heat when it travels, while the electric current currently used in computers gives off a lot of heat. A computer can only work so quickly before it overheats. Optical computers would use light and therefore the computer could run faster without ever worrying about overheating.

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A second key advantage of using light is its ability to pass through other beams of light. Two lasers can cross each other without affecting the path of either one. Electric currents cannot do this and the computer must be designed so they never cross paths. Since beams of light can cross each other, less space is required. This would result in smaller computers and smaller parts used both in computers and in other forms of technology.

Currently, optical technology is used in laser printers, scanners, and even a computer's CD burner. Lasers use light to accomplish all of these processes. The goal is to eventually spread optical technology not only to computers, but to connections between electronic devices. Optical technology could create faster Internet connections than those previously available. With the combination of optical computers and this possible new type of Internet connection, computers could perform tasks almost instantly.

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