updated 01:00 pm EDT, Thu August 18, 2011
IBM makes two experimental, brain-like chips
IBM on Thursday announced said it's working on two experimental chips that are structured like the human brain. It further believes these are key to developing what it calls cognitive computing. The effort will result in a machine that is close to processing information the way a human brain does, allowing it to learn and take action while being more space- and energy-efficient than modern computers.
Dharmendra Modha, IBM's lead scientist on the project, compares the design of the new chips to orange fields. Current computers were compared to Florida farms that can produce many oranges for the rest of the US, but at a high cost in energy for transportation. The new chips and brains are equaled to all residents having an orange tree in the backyard and being able to pick their own.
Each of the two new IBM chips have 256 neurons. One gets 262,144 of what IBM calls programmable synapses, the other has 65,536 so-called "learning" synapses. Eventually, IBM hopes to build a system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses while using up a kilowatt of power and displacing less than two liters of space.
Modern computers, while powerful, can't perform tasks such as recognizing a certain human face in a crowd, Modha said. Such a system could also monitor data about wind, waves, air pressure and current flows and process it to warn against tsunamis and other natural weather phenomena, he foresees.
The US government has taken an interest in the project, with DARPA awarding a second round of funding, to the tune of $21 milllion. Modha admits that the cognitive systems he imagines are between seven and ten years away, however. [via WSJ]