In what could be one of the most ambitious computing projects ever, neuroscientists, computer engineers and psychologists are coming together in a bid to create an entirely new computing architecture that can simulate the brain’s abilities for perception, interaction and cognition. All that, while being small enough to fit into a lunch box and consuming extremely small amounts of power.
IBM will join five US universities in an ambitious effort to integrate what is known from real biological systems with the results of supercomputer simulations of neurons. The team will then aim to produce for the first time an electronic system that behaves as the simulations do.
The longer-term goal is to create a system with the level of complexity of a cat’s brain.
Prof Modha says that the time is right for such a cross-disciplinary project because three disparate pursuits are coming together in what he calls a “perfect storm”.
Neuroscientists working with simple animals have learned much about the inner workings of neurons and the synapses that connect them, resulting in “wiring diagrams” for simple brains.
Supercomputing, in turn, can simulate brains up to the complexity of small mammals, using the knowledge from the biological research. Modha led a team that last year used the BlueGene supercomputer to simulate a mouse’s brain, comprising 55m neurons and some half a trillion synapses.
“But the real challenge is then to manifest what will be learned from future simulations into real electronic devices – nanotechnology,” Prof Modha said.
Technology has only recently reached a stage in which structures can be produced that match the density of neurons and synapses from real brains – around 10 billion in each square centimetre.