IBM wants to create computer chips with a brain

IBM has announced a new effort dedicated to giving silicon chips the capabilities of a human brain.

IBM has announced the creation of a "breakthrough" software ecosystem designed for developing silicon chips that have an architecture inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the brain.

The tech giant says that the new programming model -- the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics -- dubbed "SyNAPSE," is designed with large-scale, interconnected cognitive computing architectures in mind, rather than traditional, sequential systems.

Modern computing relies on pre-defined programs. When applied to Big Data, these traditional systems operate at a reduced effectiveness rate due to real-time processing of the noisy, analog, voluminous information. In contrast, the brain works more slowly -- but is able to recognize, interpret and act upon patterns more readily.

In 2011, the company developed and demonstrated a building block of a brain-inspired chip architecture. Based on a scalable, interconnected, configurable network of "neurosynaptic cores," each core brings memory ("synapses"), processors ("neurons"), and communication ("axons") together, serving as a platform to mimic the brain's responses to sensors and subsequent analysis of information from multiple sources.

The technology could be used for a new generation of intelligent sensor networks that can mimic the brain's capabilities for environmental perception, action, and cognitive "thought," according to the firm.

"Architectures and programs are closely intertwined and a new architecture necessitates a new programming paradigm," said Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha, Principal Investigator and Senior Manager of IBM Research. "While complementing today's computers, this will bring forth a fundamentally new technological capability in terms of programming and applying emerging learning systems."

IBM and partners Cornell University and iniLabs, Ltd have recently been awarded approximately $12 million in new funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the SyNAPSE project, bringing total funding to roughly $53 million.

The tech giant's long-term goal is to build a chip system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses.

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