The fictional technology used in Star Trek to control android officer Data may soon become a reality after recent developments by Scottish scientists.
Edinburgh's Herriot-Watt University has developed high-availability switches based on neural network technology, which mimics the way the human brain processes information. The switches use diffractive optical elements to provide inputs to an analog neural network, which takes current digital technology to 'warp' speed.
The project, a collaborative effort between BT Laboratories and Herriot-Watt, is moving into its second development phase to produce a next-generation prototype because the current model is too bulky for commercial use.
John Snowdon, who is involved in the project at Herriot-Watt, said that "even in its initial form the system offers a potential speed-up over state-of-the-art, digital scheduling systems and algorithms".
He explained that the combination of fast digital electronics with the communication bandwidth offered by the optical interconnect, allows for the building of scalable routing systems. "The use of neural network techniques allows for the toleration of considerable amounts of system noise, which provides a more scalable technology than conventional means," he said.
BT and Herriot-Watt claim that this technology could revolutionise large networks. Rather than data coming in through various channels and being steered through a clear path to its destination simultaneously, a diffractive optics-based system of free-space interconnects optimises the routing process.
By firing a beam from a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser at data-carrying neurons, they become less able to fire themselves and only non-blocking routes survive.
According to Snowdon, optimising the time constant of the data-carrying neurons improves speed. "The next-generation scheduler supports packet prioritisation, making it attractive as an ATM switch controller. It will also be fabricated in smart-pixel rather than discrete technology, leading to a remarkably small footprint and a considerable performance increase," he said.
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