Researchers Thursday unveiled a powerful new postage-stamp size chip
delivering supercomputer performance using a process that mimics the
The so-called "neurosynaptic" chip is a breakthrough that
opens a wide new range of computing possibilities from self-driving
cars to artificial intelligence systems that can installed on a
smartphone, the scientists say.
The researchers from IBM, Cornell
Tech and collaborators from around the world said they took an entirely
new approach in design compared with previous computer architecture,
moving toward a system called "cognitive computing."
taken inspiration from the cerebral cortex to design this chip," said
IBM chief scientist for brain-inspired computing, Dharmendra Modha,
referring to the command center of the brain.
He said existing
computers trace their lineage back to machines from the 1940s which are
essentially "sequential number-crunching calculators" that perform
mathematical or "left brain" tasks but little else.
The new chip
dubbed "TrueNorth" works to mimic the "right brain" functions of sensory
processing responding to sights, smells and information from the
environment to "learn" to respond in different situations, Modha said.
accomplishes this task by using a huge network of "neurons" and
"synapses," similar to how the human brain functions by using
information gathered from the body's sensory organs.
researchers designed TrueNorth with one million programmable neurons and
256 million programmable synapses, on a chip with 4,096 cores and 5.4
A key to the performance is the extremely low
energy use on the new chip, which runs on the equivalent energy of a
- Sensor becomes the computer -
can allow a chip installed in a car or smartphone to perform
supercomputer calculations in real time without connecting to the cloud
or other network.
"The sensor becomes the computer," Modha told AFP in a phone interview.
"You could have better sensory processors without the connection to Wi-Fi or the cloud.
would allow a self-driving vehicle, for example, to detect problems and
deal with them even if its data connection is broken.
"It can see an accident about to happen," Modha said.
a mobile phone can take smells or visual information and interpret them
in real time, without the need for a network connection.
years of collaboration with IBM, we are now a step closer to building a
computer similar to our brain," said Rajit Manohar, a researcher at
Cornell Tech, a graduate school of Cornell University.
funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
published its research in a cover article on the August 8 edition of the
The researchers say TrueNorth in some ways
outperforms today's supercomputers although a direct comparison is not
possible because they operate differently.
But they wrote that
TrueNorth can deliver from 46 billion to 400 billion "synaptic"
calculations per second per watt of energy. That compares with the most
energy-efficient supercomputer which delivers 4.5 billion "floating
point" calculations per second and per watt.
The chip was fabricated using Samsung's 28-nanometer process technology.
is an astonishing achievement to leverage a process traditionally used
for commercially available, low-power mobile devices to deliver a chip
that emulates the human brain by processing extreme amounts of sensory
information with very little power," said Shawn Han of Samsung
Electronics, in a statement.
"This is a huge architectural
breakthrough that is essential as the industry moves toward the
next-generation cloud and big-data processing."
Modha said the
researchers have produced only the chip and that it could be years
before commercial applications become available.
But he said it
"has the potential to transform society" with a new generation of
computing technology. And he noted that hybrid computers may be able to
one day combine the "left brain" machines with the new "right brain"
devices for even better performance.