Scientists have made a crucial step towards unlocking the "holy grail" of computing - microchips that mimic the way the human brain works to store and process information.
A research team, including Professor C. David Wright from the University of Exeter, have made a pioneering breakthrough by developing photonic computer chips - that use light rather than electricity - that imitate the way the brain's synapses operate.
The work, conducted by researchers from Oxford, Münster and Exeter Universities, combined phase-change materials - commonly found in household items such as re-writable optical discs - with specially designed integrated photonic circuits to deliver a biological-like synaptic response.
Crucially, their photonic synapses can operate at speeds a thousand times faster than those of the human brain. The teambelieve that the research could pave the way for a new age of computing, where machines work and think in a similar way to the human brain, while at the same time exploiting the speed and power efficiency of photonic systems.
The research is published in Science Advances on Wednesday, September 27, 2017.
Professor Harish Bhaskaran from Oxford University and who led the team said "The development of computers that work more like the human brain has been a holy grail of scientists for decades. Via a network of neurons andsynapses the brain can process and store vast amounts of information simultaneously, using only a few tens of Watts of power. Conventional computers can't come close to this sort of performance."