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Introduction of Optical Computing

Last Updated : 06 Jan, 2020
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Optical computing (also known as optoelectronic computing and photonic computing) is a computation paradigm that uses photons (small packets of light energy) produced by laser/ diodes for digital computation. Photons have proved to give us a higher bandwidth than the electrons we use in conventional computer systems. The optical computers, would give us a higher performance and hence be faster than the electronic ones.

The speed of computation depends on two factors: how fast the information can be transferred and how fast that information can be processed that is data computation. Photons basically use wave propagation and the interference pattern of waves to determine outputs. This allows for instantaneous computation without inducing latency. Data is processed while it’s propagating. There is no need to stop the data movement and flow for its processing. This speed factor would transform the computer industry.

The building block of any conventional electronic computer is a transistor. For optical computing, we achieve an equivalent optical transistor by making use of materials with non-linear refractive indices. Such materials can be used for making optical logic gates, which go into the CPU. An optical logic gate is simply a switch that controls one light beam by another. It is “ON” when light is being transmitted, and it is “OFF” when it blocks the light.

Photons are almost massless, hence we need very less amount of energy to excite them. Also, instead of operating in a serial fashion like most of the classical computers, optical computing operates in a parallel way, which helps it to tackle complex problems using light reflection, as well as have increased bandwidth as compared to electron-based systems. Coming to security, as optical computing processes data while it is in motion, very less data is exposed. This leads to increased security than the conventional systems.


  • Low heating
  • Can tackle complex computations very quickly
  • Can be scaled to larger networks efficiently.
  • Increased computation speed
  • Higher bandwidth with very low data loss transmission.
  • Free from electrical short circuits.


  • Components of optical computers would be very costly.
  • Size is very bulky.
  • Integrating optical gates is complex.
  • Interference can be caused by dust or any imperfections.

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