Researchers are using optic fibres to make computers based on the human brain

Researchers are working on making computers based on the human brain. Scientists from the Optoelectronics Research Centre at the University of Southampton and the Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have used optical fibres called chalcogenides to reproduce the ways neural networks and synapses in the brain work.

Existing computers try to work with the same efficiency as the human brain, but expend a lot more energy and take longer to perform functions we can do easily, like thinking independently (although some people still seem to struggle with that one, to be fair).

Because these chalcogenides fibres can be activated by light, they can be switched on and off, allowing them to process data more efficiently. A team led by Professor Cesare Soci in Singapore manipulated the fibres to replicate the changes in a nerve cell as it’s stimulated, meaning computers that can ‘think’ (and thus work more quickly using less energy) should be in our futures as the scientists continue their research.

The study was published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials and co-author Dr Behrad Gholipour says, ‘By going back to biological systems for inspiration and using mass-manufacturable photonic platforms, such as chalcogenide fibres, we can start to improve the speed and efficiency of conventional computing architectures, while introducing adaptability and learning into the next generation of devices.’

Who knows, within a couple of years, you could be updating Instagram while your computer gets on with your work. Or we’re all about to be replaced with PCs, one of those.

Diane Shipley