Jan 13, 2021

What is photonic processing and why does it matter for AI?

Paddy Smith
2 min
photonic processing
Photonic processing has been called the CPU killer, and its awesome potential is making data scientists, and the whole AI community, excited for the fut...

If it was ‘bias’ in 2020, ‘deep learning’ in 2019 and ‘training data’ in 2018’, the watchword of 2021, in AI terms, is ‘photonic processing’.

Who? Well, we’ll come to that, but photonics is the use of light – rather than electrons – to run data. And, among its many other qualities, light is FAST. It is also nifty in a number of other ways that have applications in artificial intelligence.

Let’s take a look.

What is photonic processing?

Photonic processing uses light instead of conventional electronics to process data. A standard microprocessor processes data in a serial fashion, one process at a time. Over the years, processors have adapted to overcome bussing bottlenecks – multi-core processors and GPUs are examples of this. But photonic processing – or photonic computing, or optical computing – uses light instead. And just as light floods the sky, while lightning cuts just a slice, photonic computing has potential that goes beyond the physical properties of electricity.

What are the benefits of photonic processing?

Where do we start? It’s faster. Potentially much, much faster than conventional electronic processing. It is also more efficient, drawing less power and creating less heat. And researchers from George Washington University discovered in 2020 that by using different wavelengths, photonic processors could transact multiple pieces of data simultaneously, a process known as wavelength division multiplexing. Theoretically at least, photonic processing allows for computation at the speed of light.

Why is photonic processing important for AI?

The scale of data processing needed for data analysis in machine learning is vast. The end calculations require constant access to the cache memory, which creates a bottleneck. AI is, in computational terms, expensive. It’s also slow. Photonic processing might unblock the whole process, being able to collect, process and store data at previously impossible speeds, while drawing less power. As 5G and edge computing come together to bring us more data, faster, it is a potentially transformative technology.

What happens next in photonic computing?

Photonics is likely to be used in tensor processing units (TPUs), a type of processor dedicated to the data demands of machine learning (think GPU but for massive multi stream data crunching rather than graphics). Scientists from the Universities of Oxford, Münster, Exeter, Pittsburgh, École Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL) and IBM Research Europe have developed a new approach and processor architecture which could pave the way for commercially available speciality prototypes and production models.

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Jun 18, 2021

Microsoft: Building a secure foundation to drive NASCAR

3 min
Racing fans can expect the ultimate virtual experience as a result of the partnership with Microsoft and NASCAR

Microsoft is a key partner of The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and together they are driving ahead to create an inclusive and immersive new fan experience (FX).

These long-term partners have not only navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365, but are now looking to a future packed with virtual events to enhance the FX, well beyond NASCAR’S famous Daytona racetrack. 

“Together, we've created a secure environment that's allowed for collaboration, but the future is all about the fans”, said Melinda Cook, General Manager for Microsoft South USA Commercial Business, who cited a culture of transparency, passion, adaptiveness, and a growth mindset as to why this alignment is so successful.”

“We've partnered to create a fluid, immersive experience for the users that is supported by a secure foundation with Microsoft in the background. We are focused on empowering and enabling customers and businesses, like NASCAR, to reach their full potential. We do this with our cloud platform which provides data insights and security.”

“Our cloud environment allows NASCAR to move forward with their digital transformation journey while we are in the background,” said Cook who highlights that Microsoft is helping NASCAR

  • Empower employees productivity and collaboration
  • Improve fan engagement and experience
  • Improve environment security and IT productivity
  • Improve racing operations


Microsoft Teams, which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite, enabled employees to work remotely, while staying productive, during the pandemic. “This allowed people to provide the same level of productivity with the use of video conference and instant messaging to collaborate on documents. Increased automation also allows the pit crews, IT, and the business to focus on safety, racing operations, and on the fan experience,” said Cook.

“We have started to innovate to create a more inclusive fanbase, this includes using Xbox to give people the experience of being a virtual racer or even leveraging some of the tools in Microsoft Teams to have a virtual ride along experience.”

“These environments are how we create a more inclusive and immersive experience for the fans. We're working on a virtual fan wall which allows people from new locations to participate in these events,” said Cook, who pointed out Microsoft was also helping bring legacy experiences alive from NASCAR’s archives. 

“At Microsoft we can take it one level further by letting fans know what it's like to see the pit crew experience, the data and all the behind-the-scenes action. We will continue to improve automation with machine learning and artificial intelligence, from marketing to IT operations to finance to racing operations,” said Cook.

Christine Stoffel-Moffett, Vice President of Enterprise Technology at NASCAR, said: “Microsoft is one of our key partners. They have been instrumental in helping the NASCAR enterprise technology team re-architect our Microsoft systems to ensure an advanced level of security across our environment, contribute to our business outcomes, and focus on fan experience.”


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