they manage to efficiently guide the light through a silicon

In recent years and as we have been approaching the limits of Moore’s Law different companies have sought alternatives to improve the performance of computers. Every time we try to put more transistors and it is becoming more complex, so from IBM other alternatives have been proposed that have not so much to do with the number of transistors but with what is used in them. In this case, light.

According to IBM, the speed of processors has stagnated for the last decade and a half to a few gigahertz. That is to say, as much as we want to get more performance out of the chips, there is no room for more with current technology. Your idea to fix this bottleneck has to do with change the complete operation of the circuits.

From electronic circuit to optical circuit

Optical circuits they are the next big thing in computing for IBM. The company claims to have managed to efficiently guide visible light through silicon for the first time. This is undoubtedly an important step forward towards faster and more efficient chips. Why? Because visible light travels faster than electricity between transistors.

Optical circuits encode information using light instead of electronics. They are not entirely new but it is true that the important advances are just taking place due to the difficulties that technology presents. IBM built the first optical transistor that operated at room temperature in 2019. Now they claim to have molded silicon to guide light between these transistors.

The use of silicon for this it has its advantages and disadvantages. The good part is that it is relatively cheap and common, as it is, after all, the element currently used for chips. The bad part is that it is quite a challenge to prevent it from absorbing visible light. IBM says that to avoid this they built a kind of nanometer-thick grid around the silicon “tube”. This reflective grating prevented the light from escaping and the photons were thus able to reach their destination.

Illustration Of A Pair Of Silicon High Contrast Gratings Illustration of how light is transferred through the silicon circuit and with the reflective grating on the sides. Via IBM.

Despite the progress, there is still a long way to go until we see an optical chip in good condition, cheap and easy to manufacture. They say the next step for now is to design the efficient coupling of light from silicon to other components. Ultimately everything consists of creating “paths” to carry light from one place to another, “paths” like the cables we use to transmit electricity. Meanwhile, other companies such as Intel propose other alternatives such as neuromorphic processors, what win by a landslide to traditional CPUs in some respects.

Via | IBM

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