IBM’s “Neurosynaptic” Chips Are Closest Thing To A Synthetic Brain

IBM researchers have designed a revolutionary chip that, for the first time, actuallymimics the functioning of a human brain.

Earlier this year, IBM’s Watson computer made history by trouncing Jeopardy champs Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in an intimidating display of computer overlord-dom. But to compare Watson’s computing power to the complexity of the human brain would still constitute a pretty epic oversimplification of what it means to “think” like a human.

When the human brain formulates a thought, learns a new skill, or digs deep in its archives to recover a memory, it does so in a uniquely dynamic way. There are billions upon billions of neurons in that head of yours, and the strength and number of each one’s connections with other neurons is constantly in flux. The plastic nature of these neural networks allow for computation and memory to become closely intertwined, the result being a fantastically efficient and powerful “processor.”

Computers, by comparison, must trudge through information one bit at a time, channeling each bit back and forth between connected, but discrete, processor and memory units. The more complicated the task, the more bits of information the computer needs to shift back and forth between its distinct components.

Some people may object to the use of the word “trudge” to describe the way a computer goes about making sense of information, but compared to the efficiency of the brain there’s just no other way to describe it. Sure, modern computers may go through impressive amounts of information at impressive speeds, but that’s due in no small part to the enormous quantities of power that this process requires.

Consider, for example, that Watson needed 16 terabytes of memory, 90 powerful servers, a total of 2880 processor cores, and mind-boggling quantities of electrical power just to wrap its big computery head around the concept of wordplay. The idea of fitting all that hardware inside a space as small as your head (no offense) and making it run on 10 watts of power has long been the stuff of fantasy.

But all that could soon change in a big way, thanks to developments in the field of cognitive computing. Today, a team of scientists led by IBM researcher Dharmendra Modha have announced the creation of two demonstration chips that not only store and process information in close parallel, the way a human brain does, but actually possess “neurons” and “synapses” (the artificial neurons and synapses numbering in the hundreds and thousands, respectively) that will soon be capable of forming, strengthening, and breaking connections on the fly. What’s more, it does it all with about 1000 times less power than your conventional computer.

The architecture behind these microchips flies in the face of everything we know about today’s step-by-step, sequential methods of computing. The researchers have called the design a “neurosynaptic core.”

The public probably won’t see these neurosynaptic cores in its technology for at least another ten years. (DARPA, on the other hand, which has funneled over 40 million dollars into the cognitive computing project, may be an entirely different story.)

According to Modha, the team’s eventual goal is “a human-scale cognitive-computing system.” What does that mean? It means that IBM believes these revolutionary chips represent the beginnings of something huge. Like, a chip with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses huge; as in a computer-the-size-of-a-shoe-box-that’s-about-half-as-complex-as-a-human-brain huge.

In other words: if you’ve ever wondered what the singularity smells like, take a good whiff; this is probably about the closest we’ve ever been. Via

Think about what this means! Could you imagine if we are slowly discovering how to make another life form? We would become gods, bringing new “god” questions to life along with our creation. Our creations will wonder about the meaning their own life, how they were created, how there god was created and so on. Could this be a repeating cycle? Life forms creating life forms, in the process creating new gods. It’s just a thought.


About TheTaoOfD
Truth Seeker. Truth Spreader.

4 Responses to IBM’s “Neurosynaptic” Chips Are Closest Thing To A Synthetic Brain

  1. bitman9000 says:

    Is the differences between us, humans, and the computers we make, really, much more than just an issue of complexity?

    If it turns out, that we are just as mechanical as these machines and that the only thing that makes us special, is that level of complexity, would you want to know it?

    We’re all made of the same star material. I don’t think it’s far fetched to see an acceptable merge between humans and machines.

    maybe life runs on the human body like software runs on machines like a wave pattern runs on water. If you can maintain a standing wave pattern atop a tank of water, then gradually pump in oil while removing the water, you would have transferred that wave pattern to a completely different medium without destroying it.

    Perhaps we will be able to do the same with life when our technology reaches a certain level of complexity.

  2. metaphyzgirl says:

    I don’t know whether I should fear this development or feel excited about it ! What IBM are doing is just so ‘out there’ ! I agree we are all co-creators in the image of Source but our brains are made from natural biological ‘stuff’ whereas the IBM computer brain is made of synthetic materials so can this creation be viewed as a life form ? If so, it is a very different life form because at the end of the day, we humans are ‘sentient beings’ capable of feeling emotions; the same can not be said for a computer. Anyway, very interesting and intriguing by any standards. brill article.

  3. judithatwood says:

    I’m sorry to say that all of my knowledge of AI comes from movies like the Terminator series. That being said, if our entertainment industry, renowned for it’s really stupid choices in subject matter, can see that creating a new life form leads inexorably to that life form’s eventual resentment and conquering of the one who made it, why can’t the people who are so busy making it happen. Sorry, but mark me down with Sarah Connor, et al, in thinking this is a very bad idea. What arrogance we have to believe ourselves capable of mastering the complexities of being a god.

  4. Hey… thanks for the like and follow. After perusing your stuff I must say your notice means that much more. Very impressive.
    Are you familiar with Stephen Martindale’s work on the neural computers? A lot of our conversations remind me of your posts. (As does Tal Brooke’s stuff).
    Anyway… I am following. Just as btw, I’m going to be moving my stuff to a new site in the next couple weeks. I’d be honored to find you there.
    Lost in LA

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