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Microsoft and Barclays test analog optical computer

Microsoft and Barclays test analog optical computer

Microsoft has enlisted Barclays to help it test the world’s first analog optical computer that uses photons and electrons to process continuous value data.

The technology, says Microsoft, could transcend the limitations of binary systems and solve practical problems at the speed of light.

Developed by the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, the eight-variable optical computer - dubbed Analog Iterative Machine (AIM) - uses different intensities of light to compute at the same location where the information is stored.

After several years of work, Microsoft began a 12-month research agreement with Barclays to investigate the potential of using it to solve a real-world problem - how batches of transactions are settled at the clearing houses used by most banks.

The number of transactions goes into the hundreds of thousands daily. Like most optimisation problems, it’s the sheer scale that foils the capacity of binary computers to solve it.

“Effectively, it would take the lifetime of the universe to evaluate all the possible options,” says Lee Braine, MD and distinguished engineer in the chief technology office at Barclays.

The AIM team has already run a “toy version” of the transaction settlement problem posed by Braine, and the optical computer solved it with 100% accuracy every time.

Now, the partners are designing a larger-scale version of the problem using more data and variables. They hope to test it on an upgraded version of AIM later this summer and publish the result in a research paper.

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