Spend money on optical computers? That would be like spending it on fusion-powered desk lamps. Even if the technology problems could be solved--which they can't--the final product won't do the job any better than what we've already got.

For two decades this has been the prevailing attitude of research strategists at industrial corporations toward optical computing. But all that may begin to change next week at an Optical Society of America meeting in Salt Lake City. For almost 20 years, computer scientists pursuing the dream that computers could run on light rather than electric pulses have been on the defensive, charged by some physicists with willfully overlooking what's competitive, what's practical, and even what's scientifically feasible. At the OSA meeting, however, a physicist will try to come to the rescue of the computer scientists; AT&T Bell Laboratories physicist David A.B. Miller, head of Bell's Photonics Switching Device Research Department, will...

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