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IBM: We've Created Computer Chip That Works Like Human Brain

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 02:55 PM

By John Blosser

After six years and $53 million in taxpayer funding, IBM has announced that it has succeeded in creating a revolutionary new computer chip that functions like the human brain.

The Business Journals reports that IBM's new chip, named True North, will perform "far better at certain tasks than traditional microchip designs," chiefly by processing more information than standard computer chips can handle while utilizing much less power. 

However, computer experts say, don't expect to be switching to your new laptop, cell phone or pad anytime soon. Jeff Hawkins, co-founder of Numenta, told The Wall Street Journal it is a "many-year process to find out what the right neural architecture is."

The new chip contains 5.4 billion transistors but uses only 70 milliwatts of power, as opposed to modern Intel processors that have only 1.4 billion transistors but eat from 35-140 watts of power, according to The New York Times. It reportedly mimics the human brain's construction of neurons and synapses in a unique way and actually has one million artificial "neurons," or about the brain power of a honeybee. 

"It is a remarkable achievement in terms of scalability and low power consumption," Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told the Times.

Terence J. Sejnowski, the Salk Institute's Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, told the Times, "It will take many generations before it can compete, but when it does, it will be a scalable architecture that can be delivered to cell phones."

Terming True North "a new machine for a new era," IBM's Dharmendra Modha, who heads the project, told Wired, "We really think this is a new landmark in the history of brain-inspired computing." 

IBM already has arranged for Samsung to manufacture the chip and is seeking business partners for commercial applications, The Business Journals reports.

According to Wired, the new chip outpaces standard systems by eliminating the transfer of data from storage memory to the CPU (Central Processing Unit), where the computing activity occurs, and thus "creates a bottleneck and requires lots of energy." Instead, True North, a "neuromorphic" chip, combines the functions similar to how the brain combines memory and conscious action.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the research in hopes that it will help automate military drone surveillance and provide a means of further study into how the human brain functions, the Times reports.

The new chip has its detractors, such as Yann LeCun, Facebook's director of artificial intelligence, who wrote, "This type of neural net has never been shown to yield accuracy anywhere close to state of the art on any task of interest." 

LeCun told Wired, "This avenue of research is not going to pan out for quite a while, if ever."

Modha admitted to The Wall Street Journal, "It's not going to replace conventional computers. It is a complementary relationship." 

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