Well, fasten your seat belts folks...
A new breakthrough promises to provide Web and other computer networks links that are 85,000 times faster than what we have today.
No, that's not a misprint. But it is so fast it's hard to get your mind around-especially for those of you who remember using phone lines to surf the web.
Back then it seemed you could take a break, paint your house, cut the grass and clean the kitchen -- and still get back to your computer before it finished downloading a photo.
Forget video. That sounded like a sci-fi fantasy.
Admittedly, it's gotten quite a bit faster since then. Over the past decade millions of users around the U.S. have joined the broadband revolution. It's now becoming standard to link to the Web at speeds of at least 10 megabits per second, or about 175 times faster than dial up.
But even at those speeds, the magnitude of the change I'm describing is hard to fathom. But I'll try.
Think of it this way: If dial up was a one-story home, then today's broadband would stand almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building.
Yet, to equal what I'm calling Ultimate Broadband--or 85,000 times faster than what we have now-- you'd have to string Empire State Buildings 1.3 times around the entire surface of the Earth!
Internet Speeds Beyond BeliefIt works using twisted beams of infrared light.
Now you know why this innovation will be so crucial for the future of broadband communication and entertainment.
Having just upgraded my home theater, I can speak from personal experience. Super-fast connections are what's driving the next wave of home entertainment and data services.
And here's the thing: you won't need wires to take advantage of these incredible speeds.
They beamed data over open space in a lab. The idea was to simulate the type of link that might occur between satellites in space.
Team members manipulated eight beams of light. They twisted each one into a spiral shape. Turns out twisted light beams are very powerful because they can encode huge amounts of data.
This, by far, exceeds anything we can get today with radio frequencies used for WiFi and cellular networks.
Next up: adapting the system for fiber optics like those often used to transmit data over the Web.
I believe we are still several years away from making light-based data links standard. But I do predict this breakthrough will help lead us to the Holy Grail of computers -- harnessing the speed of light.
To me the question isn't if we'll have optical networks-- but when.
Blazing Fast ComputersHere's the thing. The USC news came out the exact same day that a second research team reported a breakthrough using light to create super-fast computer chips.
This one deals with an arcane field known as quantum computing. It's complicated so I'll simplify it for you.
Today's chips depend on the use of electricity to move or store data.
Quantum systems go much deeper -- they rely on basic atomic-scale elements like photons. Think of these as tiny pieces of light that have neither mass nor electric charge.
But they do have speed. Lots of it, in fact.
Just ask the team from the University of California at Berkeley and the City College of New York who did the study. To encode data, they used light to control the spin of an atom's nucleus.
The result: chips several times faster than anything we can produce today.
Not only that, what they call "spintronics" would yield a huge increase in processing power -- it would allow you to have multiple data streams running at the same time.
It gets better. The research team said chips would no longer remain fixed after they're etched in the factory. Spintronics would allow us to rewrite them on the fly.
Need a faster computer? Just zap your chip with a beam of light and you're good to go.
So you can see that light-based computers and networks represent a radical new approach to the way we obtain and share a wide range of data.
It's one of the reasons why I say the future will be like nothing we've seen before.
Michael A. Robinson, Defense and Technology Specialist
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