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We propose an original design for a neuron-inspired photonic computational primitive for a large-scale, ultrafast cognitive computing platform. The laser exhibits excitability and behaves analogously to a leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) neuron. This model is both fast and scalable, operating up to a billion times faster than a biological equivalent and is realizable in a compact, vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL). We show that-under a certain set of conditions-the rate equations governing a laser with an embedded saturable absorber reduces to the behavior of LIF neurons. We simulate the laser using realistic rate equations governing a VCSEL cavity, and show behavior representative of cortical spiking algorithms simulated in small circuits of excitable lasers. Pairing this technology with ultrafast, neural learning algorithms would open up a new domain of processing.