The question of whether the future may see an all-optical or photonic computing environment elicits a wide (and often negative) response, as commercial and military systems designers move to incorporate fiber-optic networks into current and next-generation systems. Only engineers at Lucent Labs have been seriously investigating 100% photonic computing, and that is a distant possibility. Some even place it in the realm of science fiction. Then again, the prospects for all-optical computing are good, but the timeframe is the question .
The military interest in optical computing is simple: speed. Logic operations in today's computers are measured in nanoseconds, but the promise of photonic computing is speeds a 100,000 times faster. And with the possibility of optical networking systems capable of moving data at 600 Gbps, such computer speeds (well beyond the capabilities of silicon) will be necessary (see box, "Frozen Optical Light") [8,9].
What actually constitutes an optical computer? Optical computers will use photons traveling on optical fibers or thin films instead of electrons to perform the appropriate functions. In the optical computer of the future, electronic circuits and wires will give way to a few optical fibers and films, making the systems more efficient with no interference, more cost-effective, lighter, and more compact .
Optical components do not need insulators between electronic components because they do not experience cross talk. ...