IBM looks to the brain to build the efficient computer of the future

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IBM looks to the brain to build the efficient computer of the future

Antony Savvas

IBM is seeking to build the computer of the future based on the efficient way the brain works.

IBM Research and five leading universities are partnering in a £3.3m project to create computing systems that are expected to simulate and emulate the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, whilst rivalling its low power consumption and compact size.

Cognitive computing offers the promise of systems that can integrate and analyse vast amounts of data from many sources in the blink of an eye, says IBM, allowing businesses or individuals to make rapid informed decisions.

IBM said, "Bankers must make split-second decisions based on constantly changing data that flows at an ever-dizzying rate. And in the business of monitoring the world's water supply, a network of sensors and actuators constantly records and reports metrics such as temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics and ocean tide. In either case, making sense of all that input is a massive task for one person, or even 100 people."

It says a cognitive computer, acting as a "global brain," could quickly and accurately put together the disparate pieces and help people make good decisions rapidly.

By learning from the structure, dynamics, function and behaviour of the brain, the IBM-led cognitive computing research team aims to break the conventional "programmable machine paradigm".

Ultimately, the team hopes to rival the brain's low power consumption and small size by using nanoscale devices for synapses and neurons. "This technology stands to bring about entirely new computing architectures and programming paradigms", said IBM.

The end goal, said Big Blue, is ubiquitously deployed computers imbued with a new intelligence that can integrate information from a variety of sensors and sources that deal with ambiguity respond in a context-dependent way and learn over time and carry out pattern recognition to solve difficult problems based on perception, action and cognition in complex, real-world environments.

IBM and its university partners have been awarded £3.3m in funding from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the first phase of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) initiative.

IBM's proposal, "Cognitive Computing via Synaptronics and Supercomputing (C2S2)", outlines research over the next nine months in areas including synaptronics, material science, neuromorphic circuitry, supercomputing simulations and virtual environments.

Initial research will focus on demonstrating nanoscale, low power synapse-like devices and on uncovering the functional microcircuits of the brain.

The long-term mission of C2S2 is to demonstrate low-power, compact cognitive computers that approach mammalian-scale intelligence.

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