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Microsoft reveals analog optical computer which uses photons and electrons to process data

Microsoft Analog Iterative Machine

We have reported before on some people believing that normal transistors for building PCs may be reaching the limits of "Moore's Law". Intel's Gordon Moore, who passed away earlier this year, claimed that transistors would double on a processor every two years.

Today, Microsoft Research revealed it is working on a computer for the past three years that uses photons and electrons, rather than transistors, to process data. It's called the Analog Iterative Machine (AIM), and in a blog post, it describes how it will get around Moore's Law and how it could be used to help solve specific issues.

microsoft analog iterative machine

Microsoft says:

Analog optical computing thus involves constructing a physical system using a combination of analog technologies – both optical and electronic – governed by equations that capture the required computation. This can be very efficient for specific application classes where linear and non-linear operations are dominant. In optimization problems, finding the optimal solution is akin to discovering a needle in an inconceivably vast haystack. The team has developed a new algorithm that is highly efficient at such needle-finding tasks. Crucially, the algorithm’s core operation involves performing hundreds of thousands or even millions of vector-matrix multiplications – the vectors represent the problem variables whose values need to be determined while the matrix encodes the problem itself.

In another blog post, Microsoft says that Lee Braine of the Barclays financial company is using the Analog Iterative Machine to help solve the tracking of massive amounts of transactions of money into stock purchases. Microsoft stated:

The problem is difficult to solve because of the volume of transactions. Braine says these transactions are usually described as delivery versus payment. A simple example is the delivery of a security for a cash payment – 100 shares in a company for $1,000. The problem is that every transaction and every player is subject to various constraints, including regulations and the balances available.

The amount of these kinds of trades is staggering. He cited the example of just one clearing house, DTCC, whose subsidiaries processed transactions worth $2.5 quadrillion in 2022. (One quadrillion is equal to 1,000 trillion.) Because clearing houses are used by most large banks, the research has the potential to benefit the entire banking system.

Barclays will use Microsoft's AIM in a one-year trial. If it is successful, using this kind of optical computer could be used in other types of financial duties like fraud detection.

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