IBM to build brain-like computers
By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News Mimicking synapses like this one is crucial to the effort
IBM has announced it will lead a US government-funded collaboration to make electronic circuits that mimic brains.
Part of a field called "cognitive computing", the research will bring together neurobiologists, computer and materials scientists and psychologists.
As a first step in its research the project has been granted $4.9m (£3.27m) from US defence agency Darpa.
The resulting technology could be used for large-scale data analysis, decision making or even image recognition.
"The mind has an amazing ability to integrate ambiguous information across the senses, and it can effortlessly create the categories of time, space, object, and interrelationship from the sensory data," says Dharmendra Modha, the IBM scientist who is heading the collaboration.
"There are no computers that can even remotely approach the remarkable feats the mind performs," he said.
"The key idea of cognitive computing is to engineer mind-like intelligent machines by reverse engineering the structure, dynamics, function and behaviour of the brain." 'Perfect storm'
IBM will join five US universities in an ambitious effort to integrate what is known from real biological systems with the results of supercomputer simulations of neurons. The team will then aim to produce for the first time an electronic system that behaves as the simulations do.
The longer-term goal is to create a system with the level of complexity of a cat's brain.
Prof Modha says that the time is right for such a cross-disciplinary project because three disparate pursuits are coming together in what he calls a "perfect storm".
Neuroscientists working with simple animals have learned much about the inner workings of neurons and the synapses that connect them, resulting in "wiring diagrams" for simple brains.
Supercomputing, in turn, can simulate brains up to the complexity of small mammals, using the knowledge from the biological research. Modha led a team that last year used the BlueGene supercomputer to simulate a mouse's brain, comprising 55m neurons and some half a trillion synapses.
"But the real challenge is then to manifest what will be learned from future simulations into real electronic devices - nanotechnology," Prof Modha said.
Technology has only recently reached a stage in which structures can be produced that match the density of neurons and synapses from real brains - around 10 billion in each square centimetre.
Full article at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7740484.stm