Newspaper article International New York Times

New Chip Mimics the Neurons in a Brain ; IBM Processor May Let Computers See Patterns That Now Elude Them

Newspaper article International New York Times

New Chip Mimics the Neurons in a Brain ; IBM Processor May Let Computers See Patterns That Now Elude Them

Article excerpt

The new processor, developed by researchers at IBM, attempts to mimic the way brains recognize patterns, relying on webs of transistors similar to the brain's neural networks.

Inspired by the architecture of the brain, scientists have developed a new kind of computer chip that draws no more power than a hearing aid and eventually may excel at calculations that stump today's supercomputers.

The new processor, named TrueNorth, was developed by researchers at IBM and detailed in an article published on Wednesday in the journal Science. The chip attempts to mimic the way brains recognize patterns, relying on densely interconnected webs of transistors similar to the brain's neural networks.

The new chip's electronic "neurons" are able to signal others when a type of data -- light, for example -- passes a certain threshold. Working in parallel, the neurons begin to organize the data into patterns suggesting the light is growing brighter, or changing color or shape.

The TrueNorth has one million "neurons," about as complex as the brain of a bee.

The processor may be able to recognize that a woman in a video is picking up a purse, or reaching into a pocket and pulling out a quarter. Humans are able to recognize these acts without conscious thought, yet computers and robots struggle to interpret them.

The chip contains 5.4 billion transistors, yet draws just 70 milliwatts -- or 70 thousandths of a watt -- of power. By contrast, modern Intel processors in today's personal computers and data centers may have 1.4 billion transistors and consume far more power - - between 35 watts and 140 watts.

Today's conventional microprocessors and graphics processors are capable of performing billions of mathematical operations per second. But the new chip system's clock makes its calculations about a thousand times per second. Because of the vast number of circuits working in parallel, though, it is still capable of performing 46 billion operations per second per watt of energy consumed, according to IBM researchers.

"It is a remarkable achievement in terms of scalability and low power consumption," said Horst Simon, deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. …

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