It Takes 147,456 PowerPC Processors To Out-Think A Cat

Also on IBM’s cat-sized-brain-simulation materials list: 143 terabytes of RAM, miles and miles of cabling, a million watts of electricity, 6675 tons of air-conditioning equipment and an acre of floor space.

Cats: they’re kinda dumb. They only seem smarter than dogs because they’re not so friendly, and our society judges kindness harshly. It’s a true and interesting theory! Which is why, after mice, simulating a feline-sized brain on a BlueGene/P supercomputer was next on IBM’s to-do list. But for all the kitty talk here, this project wasn’t specifically about creating a computerised house pet; it’s part of a larger, ongoing project to eventually simulate a full human brain. The cat equivalency, derived from the number of virtual neurons and synapses the simulation can manage, at 1.6 billion and 9 trillion, respectively, just gives a sense of how far along the project is: Today, despite being the biggest simulated brain ever, it’s only capable of simulating the human visual cortex, or as PopMech so delicately puts it, “the wrinkly outer layer” of the human brain.

So how long before a supercomputer can simulate (roughly — since these computer simulations don’t have the same neural patterning and learning capabilities of a real brain, among other things) an entire human cortex? Weirdly soon, says the project’s lead scientist:

To [simulate a human cortex] , he’ll need to find 1000 times more computing power. At the rate that supercomputers have expanded over the last 20 years, that super-super computer could exist by 2019. “This is not just possible, it’s inevitable,” Modha says. “This will happen.”

People need to stop getting worked up about the future, honestly: Before we have to worry self-aware robot uprisings, we’re going to have to deal with decades of extremely dumb, extremely expensive fake pets. Enforced caution, I believe this is called. [Popular Mechanics]


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