New IBM Computer Chip Works Like a 'Right-Brain Machine'

Aug 08, 2014 10:09 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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IBM researchers have developed a computer chip about the size of a postage stamp that mimics the structure of the brain.

Detailing their findings in the journal Science, the scientists have presented a chip that needs no more power than a hearing aid and uses an intricate network of 5.4 billion transistors, the New York Times reported.

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

Known as "True North," the computer chip has around one million neurons, making it similar in complexity to the brain of a bee while operating on only 70 milliwatts of power.

"We have not built a brain. What we have done is learn from the brain's anatomy and physiology," said study leader Dharmendra Modha, manager and lead researcher of the cognitive computing group at IBM Research Almaden in San Jose, Calif., as quoted by Live Science.

The chip imitates how the brain notices patterns, and its network of electronic "neurons" organizes data that humans process without thinking about it.

"The processor may thus be able to recognize that a woman in a video is picking up a purse, or control a robot that is reaching into a pocket and pulling out a quarter," the Times reported. "Humans are able to recognize these acts without conscious thought, yet today's computers and robots struggle to interpret them."

According to Modha, a traditional computer chip is "left-brained" and good at processing numbers; on the other hand, the new IBM chip is the "counterpart, right-brain machine," he told Live Science.

The $53.5 million project years in the works was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's DARPA, which develops new military technology.

"This is work of a very large team, working across many years," Modha told Live Science. "It was a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional, multiyear effort."

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