IBM materials breakthrough could lead to human brain-like chips

IBM materials breakthrough could lead to human brain-like chips

Summary: IBM scientists found a way to power chips with ionic currents, streams of charged molecules that operate in an "event driven" way like the human brain.

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IBM researchers have discovered a materials breakthrough that could lead to processors that use less power and operate the way a human brain does.

Silicon-based processors rely on electronics and voltage being ushered through a channel. These semiconductors, which power PCs, tablets and smartphones today, were thought under Moore's Law to double performance every two years with lower costs and size. However, new manufacturing techniques will be needed as Moore's Law hits physical limits.

IBM's discovery, published in the latest edition of Science, flips the current semiconductor manufacturing process. In a nutshell, IBM scientists found a way to power chips with ionic currents, streams of charged molecules that operate in an "event driven" way like the human brain. These processors would likely ride shotgun with silicon-based chips. 

ibmionicliquid
A typical ionic liquid (IL) gated device showing the channel, the source and drain contacts, and the gate electrode with a droplet of the IL on top. Source: IBM

 

 

Dr. Stuart Parkin, a fellow at IBM Research, explained that his team's research replaced solid gate material in traditional chip processes with a family of liquids that hold its irregular shape at room temperature. "We think this could enable a new class of devices that operate on the flow of small ionic currents instead of electrons," he said. As a result, ionic current chips wouldn't have to be charged on and off like traditional silicon.

In IBM's research paper, the company's scientists explained the following process:

Researchers applied a positively charged ionic liquid electrolyte to an insulated oxide material and successfully converted the material to a conducting metal. The material held its metallic state until a negatively charged ionic liquid electrolyte was applied, to convert it back to its original, insulating state.

The research about metal to insulator transition materials has gone on for years, but IBM found that the removal and injection of oxygen molecules into metal oxides led to the state changes.

The IBM breakthrough wouldn't result in chips that would replace silicon, but create a new class of processors. "It's not a one to one comparison," said Parkin. New devices based on ionic currents would operate more slowly, but perform calculations with much more efficiency. Keep in mind the human brain doesn't run hot and ionic chips wouldn't either. "Our goal is to take inspiration from the human brain," said Parkin.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Hardware, IBM, Processors

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  • IBM materials breakthrough could lead to human brain-like chips

    Make sure that Loverock Davidson is first in lineto get a transplant as he needs the most help.
    Over and Out
    • LD

      According to LD, if it's not from Microsoft, it's doomed to failure.
      THavoc
  • Thank you Larry

    It is articles like this that remind me why I read ZDNet. Amongst all the endless smartphone fluff, you do find gems like this; it would have been ages until I heard about this otherwise!

    Very interesting stuff.. Presumably very useful for IC's.. It'll be interesting to see if it becomes integrated into future chip design. I would assume the low operating range would make it unlikely to be incorperated into SoC packages? So we could see a variety of the new big.little design off die; a powerful electron processor handing off low power tasks to the much more efficient ionic one?

    Sure a fair few years off, but may coincide nicely with he arrival of non-volatile memory. If that were the case, whilst to the end user things may appear the same. Volitile ram and silicon semiconductor transistor cpu's have been the design of a computer since before the launch of home computing at the end of the 70's.
    MarknWill
  • Looks like a new form of RAM, not a form of AI.

    "IBM scientists found a way to power chips with ionic currents, streams of charged molecules that operate in an 'event driven' way like the human brain."

    Or like a standard transistor-based computer.

    But maybe not like the human brain - we actually don't know for sure if it's truly event driven - we just know that it's a big, complex neural network that we'd love to understand someday.

    "Researchers applied a positively charged ionic liquid electrolyte to an insulated oxide material and successfully converted the material to a conducting metal. The material held its metallic state until a negatively charged ionic liquid electrolyte was applied, to convert it back to its original, insulating state."

    Sounds a lot to me like a memory cell. Basically, it does the same thing as RAM.

    And it sounds a lot to me like the comparison to the brain is tenuous at best - for the most part, they're saying they can keep it cool and prevent overheating kinda like the brain - they're not really saying this thing will actually be some form of AI.

    "However, new manufacturing techniques will be needed as Moore's Law hits physical limits."

    Yeah, new manufacturing could help us as we hit fundamental limits - however, it can't last forever. The fundamental limits are, well, fundamental. Unless we somehow discover entirely new laws of physics that are far beyond our current knowledge, limits are limits. Moore's law will eventually end - and it's not a matter of "if," but "when."
    CobraA1
  • keep on going

    moor's law will fall.
    sarai1313@...