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Scientists, including one of Indian-origin, have developed micropchips that mimic the way the human brain works to store and process information by using light rather than electricity.
Researchers, icluding those from University of Exeter and University of Oxford in the UK, combined phase-change materials - commonly found in household items such as re- writable optical discs - with specially designed integrated photonic circuits to deliver a biological-like synaptic response.
Crucially, their photonic synapses can operate at speeds a thousand times faster than those of the human brain.
The research, published in the journal Science Advances, 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.
"The development of computers that work more like the human brain has been a holy grail of scientists for decades," said Harish Bhaskaran from University of Oxford.
"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," said Bhaskaran, who led the team.
"Electronic computers are relatively slow, and the faster we make them the more power they consume," said David Wright, from the University of Exeter.
"Conventional computers are also pretty 'dumb', with none of the in-built learning and parallel processing capabilities of the human brain," Wright said.
"We tackle both of these issues here - not only by developing not only new brain-like computer architectures, but also by working in the optical domain to leverage the huge speed and power advantages of the upcoming silicon photonics revolution," he said.
"Since synapses outnumber neurons in the brain by around 10,000 to one, any brain-like computer needs to be able to replicate some form of synaptic mimic. That is what we have done here," said Professor Wolfram Pernice, from the University of Munster in Germany.
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