Computer under development based on insights from human brain

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IBM has made significant progress toward creating a computer system that simulates and emulates the human brain. The research aims to simulate the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, while rivaling the brain's low power and energy consumption and compact size.

The cognitive computing team, led by IBM Research, has achieved significant advances in large-scale cortical simulation and a new algorithm that synthesises neurological data – two major milestones that indicate the feasibility of building a cognitive computing chip.

Scientists, at IBM Research, Almaden, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.

Additionally, in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, IBM scientists have developed an algorithm that exploits the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information.

'Learning from the brain is an attractive way to overcome power and density challenges faced in computing today,' said Josephine Cheng, IBM fellow and lab director of IBM Research, Almaden. 'As the digital and physical worlds continue to merge and computing becomes more embedded in the fabric of our daily lives, it's imperative that we create a more intelligent computing system that can help us make sense the vast amount of information that's increasingly available to us, much the way our brains can quickly interpret and act on complex tasks.'

To perform the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceed the scale of the cat cortex, the team built a cortical simulator that incorporates a number of innovations in computation, memory, and communication as well as sophisticated biological details from neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. The algorithm, when combined with the cortical simulator, allows scientists to experiment with various mathematical hypotheses of brain function and structure of how structure affects function as they work toward discovering the brain's core computational micro and macro circuits.

After the successful completion of Phase 0, IBM and its university partners were recently awarded $16.1M in additional funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for Phase 1 of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) initiative. This phase of research will focus on the components, brain-like architecture and simulations to build a prototype chip. The long-term mission of IBM’s cognitive computing initiative is to discover and demonstrate the algorithms of the brain and deliver low-power, compact cognitive computers that approach mammalian-scale intelligence and use significantly less energy than today's computing systems.