New computer chip mimics human brain

By on November 15, 2011, 6:30 PM

Plasticity. That is the term used to describe a key element deemed responsible for allowing our brains to learn, change and adapt. Researchers at MIT believe they have taken a major step toward replicating this important behavior in the silicon world.

While all of our processors today are digital, MIT has taken an abstract leap by creating a chip that is analog. The article notes that because of the way cells behave in the brain, it is difficult to mimic its functions with just  binary ones and zeroes. The brain does not operate with simply "on" and "off" impulses but rather employs a gradation of those impulses where signals become strong and weak instead of black and white.

To understand what the researchers have achieved, one must understand the basic, underlying principles behind how neurons behave. MIT outlines some of the basics here:

"There are about 100 billion neurons in the brain, each of which forms synapses with many other neurons. A synapse is the gap between two neurons (known as the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons). The presynaptic neuron releases neurotransmitters, such as glutamate and GABA, which bind to receptors on the postsynaptic cell membrane, activating ion channels. Opening and closing those channels changes the cell’s electrical potential. If the potential changes dramatically enough, the cell fires an electrical impulse called an action potential.

All of this synaptic activity depends on the ion channels, which control the flow of charged atoms such as sodium, potassium and calcium. Those channels are also key to two processes known as long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD), which strengthen and weaken synapses, respectively."

Because of this advancement, researchers can now mimic the behavior of a neuron in its entirety by controlling the flow of electricity through transistors to simulate ion channels found in cells, a feat not possible with previous attempts at creating  "brain-like" chips. MIT claims that with about 400 transistors, the chip can approximate the function of a single synapse. Synapses are the connections between neurons that allow the flow of data which, in simple terms, allows for computation.

Scientists have put the chip to use and already believe they have solved a long standing debate. Utilizing the new technology to create a seemingly accurate model, researchers can demonstrate how LTD (long-term depression) ocurrs. "Nobody had put all this together and demonstrated computationally that indeed this works, and this is how it works," claimed Chi-Sang Poon, the senior author of a paper describing the chip and a principal research scientist at MIT.




User Comments: 15

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spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

This is the only upgrade that may make your PC dumber

Win7Dev said:

A brain like chip is not even practical for normal computers, but I see how it can be used for research. Would several billion of those models of 400 transistors be able to make a life-like brain? I would love to know if those chips would make mistakes like people do.

Cota Cota said:

xclusiveitalian said:

Terminator anyone?

No, that one already has a proper name... Google

Guest said:

in 100 years we will connect together...

ps: who is big blue? hard questin..need google

nickblame said:

Why print chips for something experimental? were they so happy with the simulations to advance into printing such circuits?

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Basically by making the PC more human like.

PC's will forget which files were stored and which ones were not. The files would be in storage only for the CPU to forget where the files were placed.

Guest said:

If they make the chip and let goes in the steps of moore law wont that more the normal CPU ... old , slow, obsolete and heating/cooling issuse. And making the brain chip fast, better, more energy efficiency and having no cooling/heating issuse...

therefore make the brain chip viable in the long term ... you just dont what will happened in 10 or 20 years from now, we might be all use it by than and just like we are using moblie phone... by than it might be 40 billions transistors -/+ million

cant wait for it to progress... watch this space!

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Guest said:

If they make the chip and let goes in the steps of moore law wont that more the normal CPU ... old , slow, obsolete and heating/cooling issuse. And making the brain chip fast, better, more energy efficiency and having no cooling/heating issuse...

therefore make the brain chip viable in the long term ... you just dont what will happened in 10 or 20 years from now, we might be all use it by than and just like we are using moblie phone... by than it might be 40 billions transistors -/+ million

cant wait for it to progress... watch this space!

Yeah, that's the real problem. I've talked to some scientists that are working on this stuff, and it really comes down to power and cooling. In order to even remotely approach the power of the human brain the cooling and power issues would be enormous, with our current technology. Our brains are really amazing, the flying spaghetti monster really did an amazing job with his intelligent design.

Guest said:

Have your fun, boys and girls. Skynet will be self-aware soon enough.

yorro said:

They made analog signal

Night Hacker Night Hacker said:

Kewl, now we can let our computer automatically click those Facebook links that give away our information and compromise our accounts without us having to even think about it.

Interesting news though.

Guest said:

"My CPU is a Neural Net Processor, a learning computer" - The Terminator

Guest said:

Not really an amazing job with its design.. if there was a "creator" it had an infinite amount of time. and we have been evolving for 100's of millions of years.. were this close in what? 50 years or so? :P

we might as well call ourselves gods :D

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