Computers are about to enter an age where they can perceive, act and even think for themselves, using a network similar to the human brain. The likes of Google and Facebook are already using the principles of neuroscience to develop artificial brains that they hope will be able to solve their data issues.
Now, San Diego-based Qualcomm is planning to launch the first ever commercial chip inspired by the human brain. The chip, which the New York Times has reported will be launched later this year, will be able to automate tasks that currently require painstaking programming.
Crucially, it will also be able to mimic the human ability for perception, action, and thought. In practice, this means it will be able to avoid and tolerate errors to dramatically improve everything from facial and speech recognition to navigation and planning.
In the longer term, the approach will pave the way for artificial intelligence systems that can perform tasks in the same way, or even better, than humans.
The chip, currently being developed by a consortium led by IBM in partnership with Qualcomm, is inspired by the human brain using an interconnected, configurable network of ‘neurosynaptic cores.’ The chip’s memory functions as synapses would in the brain, the processors as neurons and communication as nerve fibres.
These chips attempt to replicate and improve the brain’s ability to respond to biological sensors, analysing vast amounts of data from many sources at once.
The work is part of the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project, which originally launched in 2009.
‘Architectures and programs are closely intertwined and a new architecture necessitates a new programming paradigm,’ Dr Dharmendra Modha, IBM’s principal investigator, said earlier this year. IBM has also announced a new programming architecture for these chips, allowing developers to design applications once they are released later this year.
The computers used today were designed decades ago for processing based on steps, set by a pre-defined program.
Although they are fast and precise ‘number crunchers,’ they struggle to deal with real-time processing of the ‘noisy, voluminous, big data produced by the world around us.’
In contrast, our brains – which operate comparatively slowly and at low precision – excel at tasks such as recognising, interpreting, and acting upon patterns. Overall the brain consumes the same amount of power as a 20 watt light bulb and occupies the volume of a two-litre bottle.
A computer uses 99 per cent of its volume for cooling and powering, and only one per cent to process information