Glass Chips Could Make Internet-Connected Devices Smarter

But at what cost, ask experts

  • A startup plans to create a glass-based chip, which offers far greater computational power than traditional silicon-based chips.
  • The new chip will help usher in a new generation of energy-efficient and responsive smart devices.
  • Think of their security implications before pushing them into devices, warn experts.
Digital communication, conceptual image. Fibre optics carrying data over electronic circuitry on a laptop computer.

TEK IMAGE / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

The human brain is a very coherent computational organ, and a startup intends to mimic its efficiency with the help of a new class of processors made from glass.

CogniFiber claims its glass-based chips will be small yet powerful enough to equip smart devices with server-grade processing power to significantly reduce the time it takes for them to make complex decisions.

"Anything that generates vast amounts of data every second, such as connected vehicles, automated trains, or fleet management of large shipment drones, can respond in real-time to events without reliance on data centers," explained Dr. Eyal Cohen, co-founder and CEO of CogniFiber, in a PR response emailed to Lifewire.

Life on the Edge

Traditionally, smart devices work by capturing data and relaying it to remote computers, where the data is crunched before the results are routed back to the devices. Edge computing has emerged as a means to reduce the response time of smart devices by increasing their computing capabilities and ending their reliance on remote servers.

Before it announced its glass-based processors, CogniFiber showcased its DeepLight proprietary technology, which the company claimed can essentially process data within the fiber-optic cables itself.

Hand with fibre optic light trail.

Yagi Studio / Getty Images

"The future of computing demands a whole new way of transferring and processing vast amounts of data," asserted Professor Zeev Zalevsky, co-founder and CTO of CogniFiber, in an email interview with Lifewire.

This is something that resonates with smart devices expert Siji Sunny, Principal Architect at SugarBoxNetworks. He believes the glass-based chips will help bring complex computational processing prowess to devices at the edge.

"I believe the replacement of silicon-based semiconductors to in-fiber processing may drastically change the edge computing world, which can be [as powerful as] cloud farms and clusters for data-processing and computation," Sunny told Lifewire over email.

"Dramatically increasing the processing power of connected devices... requires a well-thought-out security strategy."

Illustrating the advantages of the new chips to a home user, a CogniFiber spokesperson told Lifewire over email that they’ll, for instance, help create a new generation of very responsive robotic home assistants thanks to built-in artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. 

By reducing the burden on remote data centers, the glass-based chips will also have an environmental impact, asserted the spokesperson. Furthermore, the glass-based chips have low energy demands that’ll help reduce their carbon footprint. 

In fact, the spokesperson argued that even if the level of processing promised by glass-based chips is achieved with traditional silicon-based chips, their power and carbon demands would be enormous as compared to glass-based chips.

Look Before You Leap

Even as CogniFiber works to make its glass-based chips a reality, cybersecurity experts caution that increased computing power also brings an increased potential for attacks. 

Tim Erlin, VP of strategy at Tripwire, believes that more powerful devices will drive more complex use cases and that complexity will create both opportunity and benefit for attackers.

"Dramatically increasing the processing power of connected devices, especially those directly connected to the Internet, requires a well-thought-out security strategy," Erlin told Lifewire over email.

But the threat potential for any technology advancement shouldn't be used as an excuse to stop moving forward, Erlin added. Instead, he suggested it should be a reason to consider security up front instead of as an afterthought.  

Tyler Reguly, manager of security R&D at Tripwire, is concerned about the chips being made from glass. 

"For more than half a decade, there have been stories about global glass shortages and the fact that the world is running out of sand. This was a hot topic in 2015 and continues to see numerous articles written every year," Reguly told Lifewire over email.

He points to the ongoing global silicon shortage that has driven up prices for computer hardware and also disrupted production in several sectors, most notably automobile manufacturing.

"Are we really advancing technology if the new tech we're creating is based on something that is already in short supply," asks Reguly. "Are we joining a chip shortage that's already in progress?"

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