Photonics takes a step towards creating brain-like photonic microchips

September 28, 2017 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
A research team, including Professor C. David Wright from the University of Exeter, have made a pioneering breakthrough by developing photonic computer chips - that use light rather than electricity - that imitate the way the brain's synapses operate.

Researchers from Oxford, Münster and Exeter Universities combined phase-change materials that are commonly found in household items such as re-writable optical discs with specially designed integrated photonic circuits to deliver a biological-like synaptic response. Such photonic synapses can operate at speeds a thousand times faster than those of the human brain.

The team believe that the research could pave the way for a new age of computing, where machines work and think in a similar way to the human brain, while at the same time exploiting the speed and power efficiency of photonic systems.

Professor Harish Bhaskaran from Oxford University and who led the team said: "The development of computers that work more like the human brain has been a holy grail of scientists for decades. Via a network of neurons and synapses the brain can process and store vast amounts of information simultaneously, using only a few tens of Watts of power. Conventional computers can't come close to this sort of performance."

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