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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 03, @01:49PM   Printer-friendly
from the beam-me-up dept.

Penn Engineers have developed a new chip that uses light waves, rather than electricity, to perform the complex math essential to training AI. The chip has the potential to radically accelerate the processing speed of computers while also reducing their energy consumption.

[...] The interaction of light waves with matter represents one possible avenue for developing computers that supersede the limitations of today's chips, which are essentially based on the same principles as chips from the earliest days of the computing revolution in the 1960s.

[...] Instead of using a silicon wafer of uniform height, explains Engheta, "you make the silicon thinner, say 150 nanometers," but only in specific regions. Those variations in height -- without the addition of any other materials -- provide a means of controlling the propagation of light through the chip, since the variations in height can be distributed to cause light to scatter in specific patterns, allowing the chip to perform mathematical calculations at the speed of light.

[...] this design is already ready for commercial applications, and could potentially be adapted for use in graphics processing units (GPUs), the demand for which has skyrocketed with the widespread interest in developing new AI systems. "They can adopt the Silicon Photonics platform as an add-on," says Aflatouni, "and then you could speed up training and classification."

Original Source: New Chip Opens Door to AI Computing at Light Speed
Linked Paper from Original Source: Inverse-designed low-index-contrast structures on a silicon photonics platform for vector–matrix multiplication
Arxiv link to original paper:

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by turgid on Sunday March 03, @04:36PM (2 children)

    by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 03, @04:36PM (#1347217) Journal

    They've been talking about optical computers for decades. Didn't the University of Manchester have one back in the 1990s?

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by corey on Sunday March 03, @09:12PM (1 child)

      by corey (2202) on Sunday March 03, @09:12PM (#1347253)

      Yeah exactly. While interesting and good for computing, the fact that they keep attaching themselves to the AI bandwagon makes me queasy.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by sgleysti on Monday March 04, @04:59AM

        by sgleysti (56) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 04, @04:59AM (#1347279)

        Yeah. I'd much rather hear how many double precision floating point operations it can sustain per second during a matrix-matrix multiply.

        The short story Luminous by Greg Egan is a great read and features a computer that uses photons as a computing medium. I should go reread it. This article might have done something good after all, lol.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Kell on Sunday March 03, @10:53PM

    by Kell (292) on Sunday March 03, @10:53PM (#1347256)

    Maybe they can use heavy charged particle-wave super-position instead of photons, and then Asimov would be unexpectedly right.

    Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by mcgrew on Monday March 04, @10:17PM

    by mcgrew (701) <> on Monday March 04, @10:17PM (#1347370) Homepage Journal

    Come on, guys, this is stupid. Electricity travels at the speed of light. Radio waves travel at the speed of light. Radio waves ARE light!

    This reminds me of an Apple ad two decades ago, advertising computers faster than the speed of light. This is from the long-defunct Springfield Fragfest.

    Einstein can't escape Apple's grenade

    Apple has introduced a computer that their advertising says runs faster than light which I ought to cache since... well, they have this new fast processor...

    So I ordered one just to see how it worked.

    It arrived two weeks before ordering it, so I didn't order it and got my shiny new Power Mac with its faster than light processor for free!

    I discovered some other weird effects using this processor. For one thing, it weighs a LOT when you turn it on, so much that it dented the table and bent the legs. Yes, Einstein was right about speed affecting gravity.

    So I decided to do a little experiment. I cut the power cord (the computer bounced a full six inches when I shut it off) and reversed the power's polarity. Being household A/C that shouldn't have had an effect, but it did. When I turned it back on, it flew upwards until it ran out of cord, and when it yanked its plug from the wall it of course came crashing down.

    So I took it out to my van and plugged it into the cigarette lighter. Viola, flying car! This was great!
    And it's a fast flying car, too. It handles like a flying pig when I'm flying, though, as you can only steer it by moving the front wheels with the steering wheel, and the wind drag helps steer.

    Of course, once I left the atmosphere I was screwed. No air, no steering. Darn it! Darn it to heck (sorry, I already used this month's allotment of swear words discussing politics).

    I discovered that I could steer with the gas pedal, with the slight variation in voltage caused by the imperfections in the car's alternator affecting the voltage supplied to the Mac, and thereby affecting its gravity.

    I, uh, got it going TOO fast. Not only was the computer itself traveling faster than light, the car was getting dangerously close to it.

    As I crossed the lightspeed barrier I saw Yello and ten thousand alternate Siscos. Yello asked about granny and promptly vanished in a puff of green smoke. Curious.

    But past the lightspeed limit, the universe seemed to shrink to a pinpoint, which was angrily chasing me. Which was a very silly thing for it to do, as I wanted to get back inside it. It was kind of like my wife when she's mad at me.

    That thought kind of unnerved me, so I freaked and pulled the key out of the ignition.
    I found myself holding the phone getting ready to place an order for a Mac.

    WTF was I thinking? I can't afford one of these! I put the phone down.

    Thank God for Einstein. I'd be paying for that damned computer until Hell froze over.

    At least I got my month's allotment of swear words back. Oh, uh, if you notice some strange things going on with your clock, I guess that's my fault...