From the NYTimes: Intel scientists say that they have made silicon chips that can switch light like electricity, blurring the line between computing and communications and presenting a vision of the digital future that will allow computers themselves to span cities or even the entire globe.
The invention demonstrates for the first time, Intel researchers said, that ultrahigh-speed fiberoptic equipment can be produced at personal computer industry prices. As the costs of communicating between computers and chips falls, the barrier to building fundamentally new kinds of computers not limited by physical distance should become a reality, experts said.
The advance...will free computer designers to think about the systems they create in new ways, making it possible to conceive of machines that are not located in a single physical place, according to scientists and industry executives. It will also make possible a new class of computing applications based on the possibility of transmitting high-definition video and images hundreds or even thousands of times faster than possible on today's Internet.
"Before, there were two worlds — computing and communications," said Alan Huang, a former Bell Labs physicist, who has founded the Terabit Corporation, an optical networking company in Menlo Park, Calif. "Now they will be the same and we will have powerful computers everywhere."
One potential application, he said, would be an interactive digital television system allowing viewers to watch a sporting event from multiple angles, moving the point of view at will while the game is being played. With only a limited number of digital cameras, it might be possible to synthesize a virtual moveable seat any place in the stadium. Such a feature exists currently in video games, but it is far beyond the capacity of today's digital television transmission systems.