The idea of an analog computer—a device that use continuous variables rather than zeros and ones—may evoke obsolete machinery, from mechanical watches to bombsight devices used in World War II. But emerging technologies, including AI, may reap great benefits from this computing approach. A promising direction involves analog computers that process information with light rather than with electrical currents. As reported at the 2024 APS March Meeting by Nader Engheta of the University of Pennsylvania, composite media known as metamaterials offer a powerful platform for building analog optical computers. In recent work, his team demonstrated a metamaterial platform that could be mass produced and integrated with silicon electronics [1], as well as an approach for building architectures that could be reprogrammed in real time to perform different computing tasks [2]. Metamaterial-based analog optical computers may one day perform certain tasks much faster and with less power than conventional computers, says Engheta.

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