The new computer chip that works like your brain

IBM has unveiled a new kind of computer chip that mimics the way the human brain works, using a fraction of the energy of a conventional microprocessor. It's not as good at crunching numbers as a conventional chip, but much better at processing images, sound, and other sensory data, MIT Technology Review reports.

In a demonstration at IBM’s Almaden research center, MIT Technology Review saw one recognize cars, people, and bicycles in video of a road intersection. A nearby laptop that had been programed to do the same task processed the footage 100 times slower than real time, and it consumed 100,000 times as much power as the IBM chip. IBM researchers are now experimenting with connecting multiple SyNapse chips together, and they hope to build a supercomputer using thousands.

Named "SyNapse", the chip uses silicon transistors but processes information using a network of a million or so “neurons” and "synapses", which communicate with each another using electrical spikes in a similar way to real neurons. It doesn’t have separate memory and processing blocks, because its neurons and synapses combine the two functions.

The new processor requires an entirely new approach to programming, however, which the MIT Technology Review says could be a drawback to it becoming commercially viable.

IBM’s Dharmendra S. Modha, who heads up SyNapse, discusses the new approach, system architecture and programming in the video above.

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