Optical computing makes use of photons produced by diodes or lasers for computational purposes. The advantage of using photons in computing is that they enable the application of higher bandwidth compared to electrons used in traditional computing systems.
Current research is focused on replacing the currently used computer components with their optical computing counterparts. Optical computing is increasingly being used in conventional computers by integrating optical components, thus creating electronic-optic hybrid technology. It is expected that in the near future optical computing could replace electronic computing.
New optical computers are being developed to eliminate the need for optical to electronic to optical conversion. One of the major advantages of using this technology is that it offers higher performance compared to conventional electron based computing.
It may not have been proven in tests yet because of technical restrictions, but it has been suggested that in advanced stages optical computers could be higher performing by several orders of magnitude.
In traditional electronic computers, the flow of electric current is quite fast, but the average electron drift velocity is slow. However, light is faster than anything else, which makes photons the ideal carrier for information.
Computers made entirely of optical computing parts can deliver optimum speed. Some examples of such components include bus systems based on concentrated lasers for communication, full optical RAM, holographic drives and optical processors.
All such optical components are much faster compared to their electronic counterparts. For example, a laser beam could transmit the entire Britannica encyclopedia in less than a second. In an optical computing environment, it is essential to use only optical systems because any electronic device or component will act as a bottleneck in the communication process.
It is expected that it will take some time before complete optical computers could be developed. At least the controlling and instruction components will remain electronic for some time.