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IBM unveils chips that can mimic the brain

Chips capable of perception, action and cognition
Fri Aug 19 2011, 05:18

BOFFINS at computer industry giant IBM have unveiled the initial prototypes of its cognitive computing chips that can emulate the brain's abilities for perception, action and cognition.

The chip maker's first neurosynaptic computing chips recreate the phenomena between spiking neurons and synapses in biological systems such as the brain through advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry.

Its first two prototype chips have already been fabricated and are currently undergoing testing by scientists at IBM.

Systems built with these chips, called cognitive computers, won't be programmed the same way traditional computers are today. Instead, they are expected to learn through experiences, find correlations, create hypotheses, and remember and learn from the outcomes, mimicking the brain's structural and synaptic plasticity.

To do this, IBM is combining principles from nanoscience, neuroscience and supercomputing as part of a multi-year cognitive computing initiative. The company and its university collaborators also announced they have been awarded approximately $21 million in new funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for Phase 2 of the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project.

The goal of SyNAPSE is to create a system that analyses complex information from multiple sensory modalities at once, and also dynamically rewires itself as it interacts with its environment. This is all while rivaling the brain's compact size and low power usage. The IBM team has already successfully completed Phases 0 and 1.

"This is a major initiative to move beyond the von Neumann paradigm that has been ruling computer architecture for more than half a century," said Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research. "Future applications of computing will increasingly demand functionality that is not efficiently delivered by the traditional architecture. These chips are another significant step in the evolution of computers from calculators to learning systems, signaling the beginning of a new generation of computers and their applications in business, science and government."

IBM's first cognitive computing prototype chips use digital silicon circuits inspired by neurobiology to make up what is referred to as a "neurosynaptic core" with integrated memory (replicated synapses), computation (replicated neurons) and communication (replicated axons).

IBM has two working prototype designs. Both cores were fabricated in 45nm SOI-CMOS and contain 256 neurons. One core contains 262,144 programmable synapses and the other contains 65,536 learning synapses. The IBM team has successfully demonstrated simple applications like navigation, machine vision, pattern recognition, associative memory and classification.

IBM's long-term goal is to build a chip system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses, while consuming merely one kilowatt of power and occupying less than two liters of volume.

"Imagine traffic lights that can integrate sights, sounds and smells and flag unsafe intersections before disaster happens or imagine cognitive co-processors that turn servers, laptops, tablets, and phones into machines that can interact better with their environments," said Dr. Modha. µ


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