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Army of Smartphone Chips Could Emulate the Human Brain


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Chips on the brain

Frazer Hudson

If you have a smartphone, you probably have a slice of Steve Furber's brain in your pocket. By the time you read this, his 1-billion-neuron silicon brain will be in production at a microchip plant in Taiwan.

Computer engineers have long wanted to copy the compact power of biological brains. But the best mimics so far have been impractical, being simulations running on supercomputers.

Furber, a computer scientist at the University of Manchester, UK, says that if we want to use computers with even a fraction of a brain's flexibility, we need to start with affordable, practical, low-power components.

"We're using bog-standard, off-the-shelf processors of fairly modest performance," he says.

Furber won't come close to copying every property of real neurons, says Henry Markram, head of Blue Brain. This is IBM's attempt to simulate a brain with unsurpassed accuracy on a Blue Gene supercomputer at the Swiss Institute for Technology, Lausanne. "It's a worthy aim, but brain-inspired chips can only produce brain-like functions," he says.

That's good enough for Furber, who wants to start teaching his brain-like computer about the world as soon as possible. His first goal is to teach it how to control a robotic arm, before working towards a design to control a humanoid. A robot controller with even a dash of brain-like properties should be much better at tasks like image recognition, navigation and decision-making, says Furber.

From New Scientist
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