The research arm of the U.S. military has picked Sun Microsystems to research optical computing technologies that could enable computing that is 1000 times faster than today's fastest supercomputer. Basically, researchers will try to replace the wires that currently connect computer chips together with lasers, which allow for far faster data transmission within and between chips in a computer and also dramatically decrease the heat generated by microprocessors.
IBM has already made some hay in this area, announcing its creation of the world's smallest nanophotonic switch, the communication channel between cores in a microprocessor. IBM is also touting how green its new technology is, citing power savings of 100 times over electrical wiring and 10 times over current optical switches.
IBM unveils optical computing system for moving huge data files (Computer Weekly)
Optical computing is poised to do the same thing for computing that the microchip did back in the early years: dramatically increase processor speed over today's computers. Sun has the definite benefit of Department of Defense funding, which has been a precursor to technologies that have since become ubiquitous, like the Internet. However, it appears that IBM already has a marked technology lead in the area of optical computing. Who do you think will be the first to market with a computer that uses lasers for its internal bus?