Fiber-optic technology has already begun to revolutionize computers. Fiber-optic data lines carry information at incredible speeds and aren't vulnerable to electromagnetic interference like classic cables. What if we were to build a computer that uses light to transmit information instead of electricity?
One benefit is that an optical or photonic system would generate less heat than the traditional electronic transistor processor. The data would transmit at a faster rate as well. But engineers have yet to develop a compact optical transistor that can be mass produced. Scientists at ETH Zurich were able to build an optical transistor just one molecule in size. But to make the system effective, the scientists had to cool the molecule to minus 272 degrees Celsius, or 1 degree Kelvin. That's just a little warmer than deep space [source: Science Daily]. That's not really practical for the average computer user.
Photonic transistors could become part of a quantum computer. Unlike traditional computers, which use binary digits or bits to perform operations, quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits. A bit is either a 0 or a 1. Think of it like a switch that is either off or on. But a qubit can be both a 0 and a 1 (or anything in between) at the same time. The switch is both off and on and everything in between.
A working quantum computer should be able to solve big problems that can be split into smaller ones much faster than a traditional computer. We call these problems embarrassingly parallel problems. But quantum computers are, by their very nature, unstable. If the quantum state of the computer is upset, the machine could revert to the computing power of a traditional computer. Like the optical transmitter created at ETH Zurich, quantum computers are kept at just a few degrees above absolute zero to preserve their quantum states.
Perhaps the future of computers lies inside of us. Teams of computer scientists are working to develop computers that use DNA to process information. This combination of computer science and biology could lead the way to the next generation of computers. A DNA computer might have several advantages over traditional machines. For example, DNA is a plentiful and cheap resource. If we discover a way to harness DNA as a data processing tool, it could revolutionize the computer field.