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The theory of non-resonant optical processes with intrinsic optical nonlinearity, such as harmonic generation, has been widely understood since the advent of the laser. In general, such effects involve multiphoton interactions that change the population of each input optical mode or modes. However, nonlinear effects can also arise through the input of an off-resonant laser beam that itself emerges unchanged. Many such effects have been largely overlooked. Using a quantum electrodynamical framework, this review provides detail on such optically nonlinear mechanisms that allow for a controlled increase or decrease in the intensity of linear absorption and fluorescence and in the efficiency of resonance energy transfer. The rate modifications responsible for these effects were achieved by the simultaneous application of an off-resonant beam with a moderate intensity, acting in a sense as an optical catalyst, conferring a new dimension of optical nonlinearity upon photoactive materials. It is shown that, in certain configurations, these mechanisms provide the basis for all-optical switching, i.e., the control of light-by-light, including an optical transistor scheme. The conclusion outlines other recently proposed all-optical switching systems.
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