Abstract

Optical signal processing and computing was triggered by the invention of the laser. Starting practically in 1960, it really took off with the introduction of the spatial-matched filter in 1964. Almost half a century later, research and engineering activity in the field continues unabated but in directions that could not have been anticipated in those early days. This paper presents an overview of the developments in the field, discussing the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of optics in computing paradigms to indicate where and how optics can be exploited in this area. Initially, optical methods were introduced for processing analog signals. Early attempts to extend optical methods toward digital processing failed because the differences between photons and electrons were not properly appreciated. In the last part of the paper we show that some novel concepts and advanced technology may revitalize also optical processes within the digital computing world. This latter development is demonstrated by digital logic functions implemented on simple electro-optic networks. (My personal perspective on the role of optics in computing is deeply rooted in many years of collaboration with my late friend, H. John Caulfield, and I dedicate this paper to his memory.)

© 2013 Optical Society of America

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