A team led by Prof. Mario Chemnitz and Dr. Bennett Fischer from the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena, Germany, has created a computer that uses light waves instead of silicon, all through an optical fiber, Techradar reports.

The researchers used the unique interaction of light waves inside optical fibers to create an advanced artificial learning system. This clever method eliminates the need for extensive electronic infrastructure, a marked departure from traditional systems that rely on computer chips with thousands of electronic components.

“We utilize a single optical fiber to mimic the computational power of numerous neural networks,” explains Prof. Chemnitz. “By leveraging the unique physical properties of light, this system will enable the rapid and efficient processing of vast amounts of data in the future.”

Data, whether pixel values of images or frequency components of an audio track, are encoded into color channels of ultra-short light pulses. These pulses carry the information through the fiber, undergoing various effects: amplification or attenuation. The emergence of new color combinations at the output of the fiber allows us to predict data types or context.

The team successfully applied this method in a pilot study to diagnose COVID-19 infection using voice samples provided by the University of Cambridge. The results showed a detection rate that surpasses the best digital systems available today.

“We are the first to demonstrate that such a vibrant interplay of light waves in optical fibers can directly classify complex information without any additional intelligent software,” Prof. Chemnitz said.