The brain's an incredibly rich and complex computational core that we don't really fully understand — but that isn't stopping IBM from building a new form of computing architecture around what's happening inside our heads.
Building on a collaboration it ran with DARPA's SyNAPSE program back in 2011, where it developed a neurosynaptic computing chip, the company is taking things a step further to create a whole computational ecosystem inspired by the brain. That original chip simulated some of the brain's functions — including the inter relations between 530 billion neurons — but the idea now is to create something even more realistic.
That means creating a whole new computing architecture — which is exactly what IBM is doing. So, as it's just announced, it's building all kinds of weird and wonderful things: multi-threaded software simulators that replicate the way the brain processes data; a neuron model that uses deterministic and stochastic computations to make sense of the world; and programs made out of arrays of "corelets," each of which represents a discrete neurosynaptic core. This is the stuff of science fiction.
It's a lot to imagine, but the applications are mind-boggling: computers that can think and process data just — or at least, a little — like humans. It's still some way off, mind, especially given that even an 83,000-processor supercomputer can still only match 1 per cent of your brain right now.
That doesn't deter IBM, though. Apparently, its long-term goal is to essentially build an actual silicon version of the brain. As they put it, that means they need a chip system with 10 billion neurons and hundred trillion synapses, which consumes one kilowatt of power and occupies less than two litres of volume. That's what people refer to as a challenge. [IBM via Engadget]