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IBM seeks to emulate brain's cognitive abilities in a computer

IBM is partnering with five leading universities to create computing systems that are expected to simulate and emulate the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interactio and cognition, while rivalling its low power consumption and compact size.

Cognitive computing offers the promise of systems that can integrate and analyse vast amounts of data from many sources in the blink of an eye, allowing businesses or individuals to make rapid informed decisions. A cognitive computer, acting as a 'global brain', could quickly and accurately put together the disparate pieces of any complex data puzzle and help people make good decisions rapidly.

By seeking inspiration from the structure, dynamics, function, and behaviour of the brain, the IBM-led cognitive computing research team aims to break the conventional programmable machine paradigm. Ultimately, the team hopes to rival the brain's low power consumption and small size by using nanoscale devices for synapses and neurons.

IBM and its collaborators have been awarded $4.9m in funding from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the first phase of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) initiative. IBM's proposal, 'Cognitive Computing via Synaptronics and Supercomputing (C2S2)', outlines groundbreaking research over the next nine months in areas including synaptronics, material science, neuromorphic circuitry, supercomputing simulations and virtual environments. Initial research will focus on demonstrating nanoscale, low power synapse-like devices and on uncovering the functional microcircuits of the brain. The long-term mission of C2S2 is to demonstrate low-power, compact cognitive computers that approach mammalian-scale intelligence.

'Exploratory research is in the fabric of IBM's DNA,' said Josephine Cheng, IBM Fellow and vice president of IBM's Almaden Research Centre in San Jose. 'We believe that our cognitive computing initiative will help shape the future of computing in a significant way, bringing to bear new technologies that we haven't even begun to imagine. The initiative underscores IBM's capabilities in bold, exploratory research and interest in powerful collaborations to understand the way the world works.'

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