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Credit: Louise Connor/University of Sidney

You are reading this because of an electronic microprocessor. Whether on your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop display, a computer microchip is responsible for the processing, storing and transmitting of all digital data, as it travels at electric speed, including these very words. Since the introduction of the microchip in 1959, computers have been limited to the speed of electrons, but all that is about to change.

When Texas Instruments’ Jack St. Clair Kilby invented the microchip, his design of an electronic integrated circuit depended on the flow of electricity to process and retrieve information. This is still true today, and that is why today’s computers are called electronic computers. But light travels 100 times faster than the electrons in today’s microchips, and thus a theoretical light-based computer, or photonic computer, would render today’s processors obsolete and inefficient.

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