Electronic computing and communications have advanced significantly since the days of radio telegraphy and vacuum tubes. In fact, consumer devices now contain levels of processing power and memory that would be unimaginable just a few decades ago.
But as computing and information processing microdevices get ever smaller and more powerful, they are running into some fundamental limits imposed by the laws of quantum physics. Because of this, the future of the field may lie in photonics—the light-based parallel to electronics. Photonics is theoretically similar to electronics but substitutes photons for electrons. They have a huge potential advantage in that photonic devices may be capable of processing data much faster than their electronic counterparts, including for quantum computers.
Currently, the field is still very active in fundamental research and lacks crucial devices that are needed to become practical. However, a new photonic chip developed at Caltech may represent a critical breakthrough for the field, especially for enabling photonic quantum information processors. It can generate and measure quantum states of light in ways that were previously only possible with bulky and expensive laboratory equipment.
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