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IBM Cognitive Computing: Produces First Working Chips Modeled on Human Brain

IBM the Big Blue along with four universities and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), have created the basic design of an experimental computer chip that emulates the way the brain processes information, reports Venture Beat.

IBM”s so-called cognitive computing chips could one day simulate and emulate the brain”s ability to sense, perceive, interact and recognize — all tasks that humans can currently do much better than computers can.

If it eventually leads to commercial brain-like chips, the project could turn computing on its head, overturning the conventional style of computing that has ruled since the dawn of the information age and replacing it with something that is much more like a thinking artificial brain. The eventual applications could have a huge impact on business, science and government. The idea is to create computers that are better at handling real-world sensory problems than today”s computers can. IBM could also build a better Watson, the computer that became the world champion at the game show Jeopardy earlier this year.

This new computing unit, or core, is analogous to the brain. It has “neurons,” or digital processors that compute information. It has “synapses” which are the foundation of learning and memory. And it has “axons,” or data pathways that connect the tissue of the computer.

The brain-like processors with integrated memory don”t operate fast at all, sending data at a mere 10 hertz, or far slower than the 5 gigahertz computer processors of today. But the human brain does an awful lot of work in parallel, sending signals out in all directions and getting the brain”s neurons to work simultaneously.

According to the report the projects have created two prototypes of the kinds of chips they have designed. The next step is to create an actual computer running on these new kinds of processors. IBM”s ultimate goal is to create a computer with the design that has 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses, which is even more powerful than the human brain. Yet that same computer would use just one kilowatt of power and be put in a space about the size of the human brain. Could we see Commander Data come out of this project at some point?

IBM wants to emulate that architecture with its new chips.

“We are now doing a new architecture,” said Dharmendra Modha, principal investigator of the DARPA project, called Synapse (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, or SyNAPSE). “It departs from von Neumann in variety of ways.”

The research team has built its first brain-like computing units, with 256 neurons, an array of 256 by 256 (or a total of 262,144) synapses, and 256 axons. In other words, it has the basic building block of processor, memory, and communications. This unit, or core, can be built with just a few million transistors (some of today”s fastest microchips can be built with billions of transistors).

For phase 2, IBM is working with a team of researchers that includes Columbia University; Cornell University; University of California, Merced; and University of Wisconsin, Madison. While this project is new, IBM has been studying brain-like computing as far back as 1956, when it created the world”s first (512 neuron) brain simulation.

“If this works, this is not just a 5 percent leap,” Modha said. “This is a leap of orders of magnitude forward. We have already overcome huge conceptual roadblocks.”

IBM has released a number of videos describing the project, watch them below:

We’ve included a number of videos that IBM has released describing the project.

IBM’s Bill Risk builds a brain wall.

Columbia University’s Stefano Fusi describes the brain vs. the computer.

IBM researchers John Arthur and Paul Merolla describe the inspiration for the project.

IBM researcher Dan Friedman discusses circuit architecture of the brain computer.

Steven Esser of IBM research describes the software

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