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  • Writer's pictureSarah Ruivivar

Light-Speed AI: The New Silicon-Photonic Chip Revolution

📸 ModelProp / Midjourney

In the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI), a game-changing innovation is lighting the path towards faster, more energy-efficient computing. Penn Engineers have developed a new silicon-photonic (SiPh) chip that harnesses the power of light waves, rather than electricity, to perform complex mathematical operations essential to AI training.

This revolutionary design is the first to merge the groundbreaking research of Benjamin Franklin Medal Laureate and H. Nedwill Ramsey Professor Nader Engheta, in manipulating nanoscale materials for light-based computations, with the SiPh platform. This platform employs silicon, the abundant and inexpensive element used in mass-producing computer chips.

The SiPh chip could potentially shatter the limitations of today's computer chips, which still operate on principles established during the computing revolution of the 1960s. The new chip manipulates the interaction of light waves with matter, opening a new frontier for computing power.

The chip's design involves specific regions of a silicon wafer being made thinner, around 150 nanometers. These height variations, without the addition of any other materials, allow control over the propagation of light through the chip. The height variations can be arranged to scatter light in specific patterns, enabling the chip to perform mathematical calculations at light speed.

The chip's design is ready for commercial applications and could potentially be adapted for use in graphics processing units (GPUs), the demand for which has surged due to the growing interest in AI systems development.

In addition to faster speed and reduced energy consumption, the SiPh chip offers privacy advantages. As many computations can occur simultaneously, there's no need to store sensitive information in a computer's working memory. This feature makes a computer powered by such technology virtually unhackable.

This breakthrough study, supported in part by grants from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the U.S. Office of Naval Research, is a significant leap forward in the evolution of AI. It's not just a chip off the old block; it's a whole new block!

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