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IBM Unveils Tiny Chip that Mimics Brain

Aug 08, 2014 06:09 AM EDT

Technology-giant IBM unveiled, Thursday, a postage-stamp sized chip that is as fast as a supercomputer and mimics the neuronal system.

The company says that it is the world's first "neurosynaptic computer chip". It has about 5.4 billion transistors and runs on 70mW of power - which is equivalent to the energy used by hearing-aid battery.

Its developers said that they moved away from the von Neumann computer architecture while building the chip. The research is a new step towards "cognitive computing" that allows information processing to be flexible, just like a human brain.

"These brain-inspired chips could transform mobility, via sensory and intelligent applications that can fit in the palm of your hand but without the need for Wi-Fi," said Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha, IBM Fellow and IBM Chief Scientist, Brain-Inspired Computing, IBM Research, according to a news release.

The chip called "TrueNorth" mimics the human brain, Modha told AFP. Like a brain, the chip has artificial neurons and synapses that can learn and adjust to new information. TrueNorth has 56 million programmable synapses, on a chip with 4,096 cores. It can use a variety of information and compute data in real time.

The research is published in the journal Science. IBM collaborated with Cornell Tech to build the chip. The project was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The chip was fabricated using Samsung's 28nm process technology, which has a dense on-chip memory and low-leakage transistors, according to the news release.

"It 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, vice president of Foundry Marketing, Samsung Electronics.

Modha said that the study team has demonstrated that a chip that mimics human brain is possible. It will take several years before chips like these become commercially available.

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