The human brain is the world’s most sophisticated computer, capable of learning new things on the fly, using very little data. It can recognize objects, understand speech, respond to change. Since the early days of digital technology, scientists have worked to build computers that were more like the three-pound organ inside our head.
Most efforts to mimic the human brain have focused on software, but in recent years, some researchers have ramped up efforts to create neuro-inspired computer chips that process information in fundamentally different ways from traditional hardware. And now, IBM researchers have developed TrueNorth, a custom-made “brain-like” chip/processor that can mimic human brain.
The TrueNorth chip is the core element of IBM’s cognitive computing program, which is known as SyNapse. It comes with a whopping 4,096 processor cores. The chip contains 5.4 billion transistors, yet draws just 70 milliwatts of power.
Furthermore, it is capable of mimicking 256 million synapses and 1 million human neurons. Bear in mind that these are two of the most important fundamentals that are the building blocks of the human brain.
The chip’s electronic neurons which IBM researchers are call “spiking neurons” are able to signal others when a type of data — light, for example — passes a certain threshold. Working in parallel, the neurons begin to organize the data into patterns suggesting the light is growing brighter, or changing color or shape. What that means, essentially, is that the chip can encode data as patterns of pulses, which is similar to one of the many ways neuroscientists think the brain stores information.
According to Dharmendra Modha, IBM Research fellow and chief scientist focusing on brain-inspired computing, “The architecture… has the potential to revolutionize the computer industry by integrating brain-like capability into devices where computation is constrained by power and speed.”
At present, TrueNorth is still in the development stage and IBM has not yet announced when it would be available to the public. But Modha has assured that when the chip’s brain-like nature would be available, it would be be “used in combination with other cognitive computing technologies to create systems that learn, reason and help humans make better decisions” and would be exploited to create devices that process “high-dimensional, noisy sensory data in real time.”
Apart from this, it is expected that in the future, the technology could be integrated into robots that help power autonomous vehicles working in various warehouses, and ensure home security. The IBM researchers have published a research paper in the academic journal Science.