THIS COMPUTER USES LIGHT

WILLIAM ANDREGG USHERS me into the cluttered workshop of his startup Fathom Computing and gently lifts the lid from a cumbersome black box. Inside, an inexperienced light glows faintly from a collection of lenses, brackets, and cables that resemble an exploded telescope. It’s a prototype laptop that approaches facts the use of mild, no longer energy, and it’s getting to know to understand handwritten digits. In different experiments, the device found out to generate sentences in the textual content.

Right now, this embryonic optical computer is right, now not extraordinary: on its first-rate run, it examines ninety percentage of scrawled numbers efficiently. But Andregg, who cofounded Fathom late in 2014 with his brother Michael, sees it as a leap forward. “We opened the champagne whilst it turned into best at approximately 30 percentage,” he says with amusement.

Andregg claims this is the first time such complex system-getting to know software has been skilled the usage of circuits that pulse with laser light, no longer energy. The business enterprise is operating to shrink its exploded telescope, which covers some rectangular ft of a workbench, to suit into a trendy cloud server. Fathom hopes the era will become one of the shovels of the synthetic-intelligence gold rush.

Tech corporations, in particular, massive cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft, spend heavily on laptop chips to strengthen gadget-getting to know algorithms. The current AI-crazed second started whilst researchers found that chips advertised for pics have been properly acceptable to energy so-called synthetic neural networks for tasks including spotting speech or snapshots. The stock price of leading graphics-chip dealer Nvidia has grown more than 10-fold inside the beyond 3 years, and Google and plenty of different corporations at the moment are making or developing specialized system-gaining knowledge of chips in their personal

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Fathom’s founders are having a bet this hunger for greater effective device studying will outstrip the capabilities of only electronic computer systems. “Optics has essential advantages over electronics that no amount of design will conquer,” says William Andregg. He and his brother’s 11-individual agency is backed by way of Playground Global, the project firm led by Andy Rubin, who co-invented the Android working device now owned with the aid of Google. Fathom operates out of Playground’s combined workplaces and workshops in Palo Alto.

California. The facility, which true to its call also boasts a slide popular with Andregg’s 18-month-old daughter, formerly hosted Nirvana, the startup obtained with the aid of Intel in 2016 to shape the coronary heart of the chip large’s AI hardware strategy. You’re already reaping the benefits of using mild in place of strength to paintings with data. Telecommunications corporations move our net pages and selfies over long distances with the aid of capturing lasers down the optical fiber because mild alerts travel plenty farther, the use of a fraction of the electricity, than electric pulses in a metal cable. A single cable can house many parallel streams of records at once, carried with mild of various shades.

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