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IBM chip takes a cue from the human brain

Researchers at IBM have created a new generation of computer chips designed to emulate the brain’s abilities for perception, action and cognition.

Researchers at IBM have created a new generation of computer chips designed to emulate the brain’s abilities for perception, action and cognition. Wired explores what it all means.

IBM has unveiled an experimental chip that borrows tricks from brains to power a cognitive computer, a machine able to learn from and adapt to its environment.

Reactions to the computer giant’s press release about SyNAPSE, short for Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronic, have ranged from conservative to zany. Some even claim it’s IBM's attempt to recreate a cat brain from silicon.

“Each neuron in the brain is a processor and memory, and part of a social network, but that’s where the brain analogy ends. We’re not trying to simulate a brain,” said IBM spokesperson Kelly Sims. “We’re looking to the brain to develop a system that can learn and make sense of environments on the fly.”

The human brain is a vast network of roughly 100 billion neurons sharing 100 trillion connections, called synapses. That complexity makes for more mysteries than answers — how consciousness arises, how memories are stored and why we sleep are all outstanding questions. But researchers have learned a lot about how neurons and their connections underpin the power, efficiency and adaptability of the brain.

To get a better understanding of SyNAPSE and how it borrows from organic neural networks, Wired.com spoke with project leader Dharmendra Modha of IBM Research.

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