Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Photonic computing at silicon prices - Intel may have changed the world ...

NYT: Intel Says Chip Speed Breakthrough Will Alter Cyberworld
SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 11 — Intel scientists say that they have made silicon chips that can switch light like electricity, blurring the line between computing and communications and presenting a vision of the digital future that will allow computers themselves to span cities or even the entire globe.

The invention demonstrates for the first time, Intel researchers said, that ultrahigh-speed fiberoptic equipment can be produced at personal computer industry prices. As the costs of communicating between computers and chips falls, the barrier to building fundamentally new kinds of computers not limited by physical distance should become a reality, experts said.

The advance, described in a paper to be published on Thursday in the scientific journal Nature, also suggests that Intel, as the world's largest chipmaker, may be able to develop the technology to move into new telecommunications markets...

... Intel said the technical advance, in which the researchers use a component made from pure silicon to send data at speeds as much as 50 times faster than the previous switching record, is the first step toward building low-cost networks that will move data seamlessly between computers and within large computer systems.

... The device Intel has built is the prototype of a high-speed silicon optical modulator that the company has now pushed above two billion bits per second at a lab near its headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. The modulator makes it possible to switch off and on a tiny laser beam and direct it into an ultrathin glass fiber. Although the technical report in Nature focuses on the modulator, which is only one component of a networking system, Intel plans on demonstrating a working system transmitting a movie in high-definition television over a five-mile coil of fiberoptic cable next week at its annual Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco...

We had a breather after the dot com crash, but this may take us back into the steep exponential. Intel's share price is up 2% on early news. We're talking about greater than an order of magnitude decrease in the cost/performance equation. That kind of drop is not merely progress, it may constitute revolution.

Distributed photonic computing. Inevitably one wonders about the implication for quantum computing. The hype about "the network is the computer" may become trite wisdom.

This is one of those things that might make it into the history books.

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