2D semiconductor materials are making their way into optoelectronic devices — the sort used in telecommunication. These devices have started to surpass the performance of conventional switches made with silicon and III-V semiconductors (compounds with elements from columns III and V on the periodic table).
Optical computing, an early approach that was later abandoned in favor of binary electronic circuitry, is also moving forward. There is the fascinating possibility of building computers that use light as the “working fluid,” passing photons around much the way our present chips do electrons.
This is already happening: silicon photonic chips are providing high energy efficiency and are helping overcome the slowdown issues in traditional GPU architectures. They can reduce the time needed to train deep-learning models, enabling the next generation of advanced AI. There are opportunities to integrate photonics with new low-power chip designs.
In the long term, such 2D semiconductor materials and integrated photonic circuits could help us approach or perhaps even surpass widely accepted limits in conventional computing. Theoretical work in photonic information processing suggests that light can be converted to heat and vice versa, which opens up some remarkable opportunities for all-optical energy storage—essentially batteries made out of photons—and alternative computing architectures.