Playing Realpolitik At The Real World Computing Project

After months of negotiations, the U.S. and Japan have hammered out a framework for cooperation in Japan's $600 million, 10-year Real-World Computing Project, which spans everything from brain-like neural network systems to massively parallel computers. Non-Japanese companies are welcome to participate in most areas. But for one sensitive arena--optical computing--Japan's Ministry of International Trade & Industry and the U.S. Office of Science & Technology Policy agreed to a more restricted set of ground rules.

The goal of the optical computing work is to design very high-speed machines that use light pulses rather than electronic signals. The U.S. and Japanese researchers will develop standardized devices such as lenses and switches for optical computers. Besides exchanging data, the teams will be free to swap components that can't be supplied locally.

Optical computing could be the next wave in information processing, and standardized hardware will serve everyone's interests. But neither side is comfortable sharing its secrets. The joint framework allows each to keep an eye on the other while guaranteeing a degree of hardware compatibility. If all goes well, the accord should be signed by the end of the year.

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