If our computers are ever going to hit speeds that'll allow us to do things like simulate the big bang, create artificial intelligence or create giant, building-sized robots to fight for our amusement, we need to move beyond wires. After all, their physical makeup is going to hit a wall at some point, so rather than just continuing to work at making faster wires, we need to look at what's going to come after wires, and that something is lasers.

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Sun Microsystems has just received a $44 million contract from the Pentagon to do just that. They're to work on a way of connecting silicon chips via lasers, which, if successful, will increase chips speeds by a factor of thousands.

Computer scientists have long sought a way to make faster and cheaper computers by making larger chips on a single wafer of silicon, a manufacturing process called "wafer scale integration." If the Sun researchers' idea can be proved technically feasible and manufactured commercially, it would be possible to create more-compact machines that are a thousand times faster than today's computers, the company said. Each chip would be able to communicate directly with every other chip in the array via a beam of laser light that could carry tens billions of bits of data a second.

The only problem is that Sun says that they are only expecting a 50% success rate, so this advancement could be a lot time coming. But hey, they're working on it, so those giant robot fights might be closer than we could have ever imagined. [NY Times]

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