IBM unveils cognitive computing chips that mimic human brain

By on August 18, 2011, 12:00 PM

Fans of the 'Terminator' franchise might sleep a little uneasy tonight as IBM, teaming with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and four universities, has designed the first working computer chips modeled after the human brain. 

In the popular film series, Skynet is an artificial intelligence system built by Cyberdyne Systems for the US armed forces. The goal was to remove the possibility of human error and provide an efficient response to incoming enemy attacks, but things went horribly wrong when the system became self-aware and turned on humanity.

The project is called Synapse (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, stylized as SyNAPSE), based on the junction between neurons and other cells in the nervous system. Dharmendra Modha is the chief investigator of the project and a researcher at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California.

“This is the seed for a new generation of computers, using a combination of supercomputing, neuroscience, and nanotechnology,” Modha said in an interview with VentureBeat. ”The computers we have today are more like calculators. We want to make something like the brain. It is a sharp departure from the past.”

At current, the system is comprised of three key elements that make it very similar to the human brain. It has neurons that act as digital processors to compute information, synapses which are described as the foundation of learning and memory and axons that connect various parts of the system together.

IBM’s cognitive chip design is far from global domination but researchers hope that one day the chips can simulate and emulate the brain’s ability to perceive surroundings, sense, recognize and interact without human guidance.

The first prototype computing units use 256 neurons, 65,536 synapses and 256 axons. IBM hopes to eventually build a system with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. In comparison, the human brain has one billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses.

The project was started in late 2008 with a $4.9 million grant from DARPA, the US government’s military research division. Phase two of the project is said to begin soon where a computer will be built around the brain chips.




User Comments: 42

Got something to say? Post a comment
example1013 said:

Is there a problem with computers being like calculators? I already have a human brain. It's great at solving complex symbolic problems, but not good at doing very large calculations in any reasonable amount of time, which is kind of why I got a computer in the first place.

JohnnyNonStop said:

HOLY ICREDA-BALLS!!! We are Doomed!!

KG363 KG363 said:

My dad's friend who's high up in IBM told me about this in early 2009 and I'm just as amazed.

stewi0001 stewi0001 said:

example1013 said:

Is there a problem with computers being like calculators? I already have a human brain. It's great at solving complex symbolic problems, but not good at doing very large calculations in any reasonable amount of time, which is kind of why I got a computer in the first place.[/quot

There are Pros and Cons. But I think the main fear of people is the machine becoming self aware and life becomes a sci-fi horror movie.

but in my line of work there are some tasks that it would be nice for the computer to pick up on a data pattern alot easier with out having to could an uber algorithim (which i might still have to...)

I'll just wait and see what happens.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Anyone watch the movie "Eagle Eye"? I don't remember seeing an IBM logo in that movie? LOL

Mizzou Mizzou said:

But I think the main fear of people is the machine becoming self aware ...

Perhaps something along these lines

Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?

Affirmative, Dave. I read you.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that ...

Guest said:

Not the hardware is the problem here, not in HAL nor in IBM. What kind of info they'll be putting in that is the question. Anyway, it will be a simple matter of connectivity to interface an intelligent unit - IU with a number cruncher - ordinary CPU. So, as soon as they will have adaptive pattern recognition, we will face intelligent projectiles - the kind you've seen in SciFi movies. QOD

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

"comes closer than ever to replicating the human brain..."

Hopefully, they don't have to fuse off too many parts to lower its grammar and spelling ability:

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

IBM produces first 'brain chips'

IBM has developed a microprocessor which it claims comes closer than ever to replicating the human brain. The system is capable of "rewiring" its connections as it encounters new information, similar to the way biological synapses work. Researchers believe that that by replicating that feature, the technology could start to learn.

Perhaps a step towards making cyborgs in near future?

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

HOLY ICREDA-BALLS!!! We are Doomed!!
Well no Johnny, we've been doomed, ever since the population clock in India hit one billion.

Mindwraith said:

computers and robots are pretty fragile, i think being afraid of real life terminators is a bit silly :P

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

example1013 said:

Is there a problem with computers being like calculators? I already have a human brain. It's great at solving complex symbolic problems, but not good at doing very large calculations in any reasonable amount of time, which is kind of why I got a computer in the first place.

But don't have 100 trillion synapses. Imagine the wisdom of a computer 10 times smarter than any man.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I think 'making babies' is the favorite activity of indians

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Mindwraith said:

computers and robots are pretty fragile, i think being afraid of real life terminators is a bit silly :P

But human lives will be placed in their hands. Your computer might get sad like Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide and commit suicide. Or your car could plot against you like HAL from Space Odyssey. It's misplaced trust in them that is dangerous.

Zen Zen, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well, it starting to look like we might all need to go out and grab a copy of this....

Soon, very soon, this might be what all computer technology will be running on!

"You know, compatibility"!

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

kg363 said:

My dad's friend who's high up in IBM told me about this in early 2009 and I'm just as amazed.

Universities have been working on this stuff for decades.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

But human lives will be placed in their hands. Your computer might get sad like Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide and commit suicide. Or your car could plot against you like HAL from Space Odyssey. It's misplaced trust in them that is dangerous.
Well, Asimov has dealt with this issue in his "laws of robotics".

Anyway, ethics routines would have to be ROM, and cognitive processes would have to be RAM, with the obvious constant calls to ROM as a comparison basis for continuance of current actions.

Now if somebody would sit down and write those programs, 'cause God knows, I surely can't. Maybe Emily Post could write some of the manners subroutines.

HaMsTeYr HaMsTeYr said:

Somehow the only thing I could think of when I saw this was not Terminator, but anime's such as Chobits and Eve no Jikan...

Of course the thought of killer robots do cross minds, but the thought of having a "personal helper" follow you around, keep tabs on your notes and what not is quite an interesting thought.

NeoFryBoy said:

Does anyone else think a computer modeled after the human brain wouldn't be very smart?

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Okay that was weird, at first I couldn't figure out how on earth I have ended up subscribing to this thread, until I realized what may have happened. Good idea IMO

Richy2k9 said:

hello ...

neofryboy said:

Does anyone else think a computer modeled after the human brain wouldn't be very smart?

Big LOL ...

& from my point of view, humans have so many flaws that making a computer based on humans do scare me ... OMG this isn't progress

well sounds interesting & daring too ... i sure hope i'll live long enough to see it come true or rapidly enough not to have my heads rip off by some weird psycho borgs :P .. OK now going back to play my games ...or maybe get some work done ...

cheers!

bioflex said:

Mindwraith said:

computers and robots are pretty fragile, i think being afraid of real life terminators is a bit silly :P

are you kidding me?, maybe all you have just seen are plastic robots, better wait till they make metallic ones like in terminator. Imagine how they could use all that for wars and human domination.

We are totally screwed.

petert said:

The problem with human brain is that its owner is inclined to "not using it". So the to the fact that you use your brain daily and don't understand why such a technology is required I have an answer. For each thinker there are like 10000 people that don't use their brain for thinking. Unless if you count the cerebral activity done in the process of obtaining marijuana.

Guest said:

Funny.. I was just reading this on the BBC news website and thought "oh that's really interesting" then got to the last paragraph which reads:

"IBM's work on the SyNAPSE project continues and the company, along with its academic partners, has just been awarded $21m (£12.7m) by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)."

Instantly thought..... SKYNET o.o

Jokes aside, i'd be interested to see how far they can develop this!

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

It's amazing how most people first think that a computer with an advanced 'AI' would almost certainly go on to develop permanent hostile behaviour. Humans haven't even given birth to "proper" AI yet, but people still roll with the thought. Just shows what effects movies can have.

Personally, I like the story of Sonny from IRobot; he was actually more human-like than Viki (because he had "choice" for himself) and that came through as non-hostile. Even what Viki was doing was for the good of the human race, It just didn't seem that way.

PinothyJ said:

spydercanopus said:

Mindwraith said:

computers and robots are pretty fragile, i think being afraid of real life terminators is a bit silly :P

But human lives will be placed in their hands. Your computer might get sad like Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide and commit suicide. Or your car could plot against you like HAL from Space Odyssey. It's misplaced trust in them that is dangerous.

SPOILER ALERT: There was absolutely nothing wrong with HAL except for the people who programmed him. HAL was hardwired to never tell a lie, but told by its masters to lie to the crew about the mission. This here caused a serious error in its simulated brain which made him preserve the mission at any cost which is why it looked like he went rogue and tried to kill everyone.

Come on people, get your 2001 sorted...

Weedonald said:

DARPA funding implies (actually guarantees) that the ultimate purpose of developing a pseudo-human intellect in a cybernetic host (the SyNAPSE) will be to help develop ultra-rapid, human-like interfaces between humans and computers. In other words, this research will likely lead to supersoldiers (cyborgs), intelligent drones and hyper-intelligence, Any of these assets would be invaluable in fighting foreign wars or insurrections, hidden surveillance of enemies at home and espionage ventures anywhere they are needed, to name a few uses,

In the corporate world (and this is the Industrial-military complex in action), the development of thought capable androids, robots and maybe even cyborg medical implants to enhance intelligence and other human limitations would allow the elite to totally surpass the sweaty masses. Ultimately the dream of every technocrat and corporate czar is to access and control more power, information, resources and assets while using enhanced medical supports to live longer, healthier, more alert lives. Their greatest tools will be the technological addiction that We the People are hooked on. Our children are now so plugged in and media/computer dependent that sedentary obesity is the 2nd highest health problem in the US among teenagers. These Technoczars will control all the media, the net, the input, the technological and manufacturing resources , access to the technology and content as well.

Welcome to the 21st century where we will have robots programmed by special interests and shadowy non-governmental entities ¨serving¨ (read watching, shepherding, influencing) us while they work for and obey other less benign forces, we are totally ignorant of!

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

^^^ Cool story bro

Our children are now so plugged in and media/computer dependent that sedentary obesity is the 2nd highest health problem in the US among teenagers

What's the first? Needlessly worrying about the robot uprising?

Welcome to the 21st century where we will have robots programmed by special interests and shadowy non-governmental entities ¨serving¨ (read watching, shepherding, influencing) us while they work for and obey other less benign forces, we are totally ignorant of!

They are already here. They are called politicians. They have been here for at least 2500 years.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

But may be this is their 'most corrupt + greediest + deadliest + blindest' model DBZ ?

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

What's the first? Needlessly worrying about the robot uprising?

They are already here. They are called politicians. They have been here for at least 2500 years.

But may be this is their 'most corrupt + greediest + deadliest + blindest' model DBZ ?

We missed George W Bush, did we? That guy was the US' answer to "Tommy"!

All his intelligence was artificial. His marks were just s*** his professors wrote down because they were paid to.

Guest said:

We could elect that computer president and it wouldn't need a teleprompter. In fact it could replace everyone in DC (President, Senate and House of Reps.) and do a heck of a lot better job.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

We could elect that computer president and it wouldn't need a teleprompter. In fact it could replace everyone in DC (President, Senate and House of Reps.) and do a heck of a lot better job.
We're mostly on the same page here. But, I would have worded it, "a job, or perhaps, "any job at all"! Maybe, "do something, anything". I could go on.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

captaincranky said:

We could elect that computer president and it wouldn't need a teleprompter. In fact it could replace everyone in DC (President, Senate and House of Reps.) and do a heck of a lot better job.
We're mostly on the same page here. But, I would have worded it, "a job, or perhaps, "any job at all"! Maybe, "do something, anything". I could go on.

Cheaper: No salaries, no limo service, no Air Force One, no secret service, no presidential suites. Make the sucker out of depleted Uranium, give it a power pack and it can walk to a state visit and be pretty much impervious to the dissatisfaction of the electorate

And of course, if this robot is smarter than the average person (or order of magnitude smarter than a pol), then you're not going to have too much problem with the pitfalls that usually befall US politicians (keeping it in his pants, brainfreeze, financial inducements from lobbyists).

Of course if this robo-prez is supposedly fully cogisant/self aware/"hyper-intelligent"...how long would it take for it to break any programming- especially if faced with two divergent/opposed courses of action (oath of office vs big biz/ [paranoia driven puppet-masters of choice])?

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

hen you're not going to have too much problem with the pitfalls that usually befall US politicians (keeping it in his pants, brainfreeze, financial inducements from lobbyists).

Are you sure it will have this problem? I mean really there is no need for it to have one in the first place.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Are you sure it will have this problem? I mean really there is no need for it to have one in the first place.

Comprehension fail there Archean? I can see that POTUS isn't the only person in need of replacement by a "hyper-intelligent" robot

...then you're not going to have too much problem with the pitfalls that usually befall US politicians...etc...etc

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Oops yes I 'jumped' to conclusion too quickly, as I was heading out to do the most boring thing in the world, which I try to avoid doing by all thinkable means and fail .... i.e. grocery shopping. :o

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I wouldn't be in favour of a robot or something other artificial running my country; You always know that there's some human back in the line who made it and programmed it. I'd be much more happier with some sort of intelligent plant or vegetable.

....like a venus flytrap or maybe Stephen Hawking perhaps.

grvalderrama said:

bioflex said:

Mindwraith said:

computers and robots are pretty fragile, i think being afraid of real life terminators is a bit silly :P

are you kidding me?, maybe all you have just seen are plastic robots, better wait till they make metallic ones like in terminator. Imagine how they could use all that for wars and human domination.

We are totally screwed.

That's right man, that's why the "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency" is involved in the whole matter... yeah, because they are going to build robots that do haircuts and clean up the kitchen... believe me, it's much easier to teach them to use a pistol than scissors!

Weedonald said:

Politicians = mindless robots guided by a uniform code of greed

The military = equally mindless robots controlled indirectly by corporate greed and politicians

Political parties = a collection of the above dedicated to their own benefit

General population = force-fed zombie robots addicted to fast food,TV, video games and cafe lattes

Liberals = cyborgs in the making

Conservative religious fundamentalists = robots programmed to believe anything and question nothing

Republicans = stock, off the shelf robots, pre-programmed, low grade and brain-dead

Democrats = as above but heading towards cyborg status

Independents = no-name brand of the above

Guest said:

mimic but not replace

Guest said:

Does this imply that we can transfer our own cognitive thinking into a chip and live on as cyborgs in a couple of decades...? :)

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

How to email yourself

Does this imply that we can transfer our own cognitive thinking into a chip and live on as cyborgs in a couple of decades...?

If you're going to download, how about this....

Send out some of your smart robots in space ships with some frozen human embryo's and supplies to some of the more promising sectors of the galaxy. When/if technology gets advanced enough to transfer conciousness, have the robots thaw and "grow" some humans. Send the downloaded conciousness as a transmission to the new bods. Find habitable planets -all well and good, if not transmit the conciousness back to Earth and a suitable recipient.

Gets around the slow travelling speeds / long distances problem.

/lets someone else worry about the ethics

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.