IBM has announced that it has created a chip they call SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) which is designed to mimic the human brain by understanding its surroundings, act on things that happen around it and make sense of complex data.
The idea is to replace programming computers, and instead, using the experimental chip to create “cognitive computers” which learn from their experiences and from their own theories about what those experiences mean.
Now wait, I can already hear the over-whelming majority of the internet yelling at their computer screens about “Skynet!”, but what IBM has in store for the chips are not as apocalyptic as it might seem. “Imagine traffic lights that can integrate sights, sounds and smells and flag unsafe intersections before disaster happens,” said Dharmendra Modha, the project leader for IBM Research. “Or imagine cognitive co-processors that turn servers, laptops, tablets and phones into machines that can interact better with their environments.”
The chips’ processing power is very similar to that of Watson, the super computer that beat two human champions on “Jeopardy!” this year. One of the prototype cores contains what amounts to 262,144 programmable synapses, and the other contains 65,536 learning synapses. IBM however wants to build a one-square-centimeter chip with the equivalent of 1 million neurons and 10 billion synapses.
Pretty crazy huh? For the next phase IBM has assembled teams from Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of California, Merced and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, which was recently rewarded $21 million in funding from DARPA, the U.S. military’s research branch.