The Future of Computing: Inspired by the Human Brain
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The emerging field of "brain inspired computing" has the potential to revolutionize the computer industry. So why is it so promising to design new computers inspired by the human brain?
Current computer processors are based on the “Von Neum
Now we’re leaving the classic computer technology and focusing on the human brain instead. Let’s start and try to compare current computer power with the human brain: Following Chris Westbury, the human brain consists of 100 billion (10¹¹) brain cells called neurons. Each neuron can send out about 100 signals per second, which equivalents to about 1 signal every 10 milliseconds. This seems to be rather slow compared to present processor speeds, but the neuron is not acting alone, but in a large and complex network. The brain functionality is based on this network and the interconnects (Synapses). Each Neuron is connected to approximately 1000 other neurons. So doing a simple multiplication of previous values, we can estimate the total number of operations per second by 10¹⁶ or 10 Million Billions. This in fact is the number of operations current supercomputers are able to execute. Now in order to perform this tasks the brain consumes approximately 20 W of energy (lightbulb), compared to some MW consumed by a supercomputer system (electric energy consumption of a city district).
In turn two major research activities toward a new IT technology arise:
Let me provide a short introduction into "brain inspired" hardware: This introduces a completely new processor concept. The current approach transfers neurons and the interconnecting network into 2 dimensional silicon hardware. IBM is using 28nm CMOS technology for its "brain inspired" SyNAPSE Chip (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics).
This chip is powered by 1 million neurons and 256 million synapses. It is the largest chip IBM has ever built at 5.4 billion transistors, and has an on-chip network of 4,096 neurosynaptic cores. Yet, it only consumes 70mW.
I travelled to the Forschungszentrum Jülich two months ago in order to learn more about "brain inspired computing" from top international researchers. As a result of the visit the Jülich team and IBM prepared the following video jointly together. It provides an introduction to this new IT field and the underlying challenges to simulation software and IT infrastructure.