IBM researchers this week announced a key step in blending technology & physiology, with a new computer chip designed to function like the human brain and learn, rather than rely only on programmed instructions.
You might think computers already learn, because Google fills in your search box after only a few keystrokes, and your iPhone predicts words as you type a text message. But these computers were programmed to predict certain behavior based on past events. IBM says its new “synapse” chips actually learn on their own and can adapt to unexpected events. (watch the video below)
It’s just the beginning, and there’s much more work to do before the chips leave the lab and find their way into products – maybe 10 years or so – but it’s a start. At this point, how they work is more important than what they do, since they work more like the human brain than a programmed supercomputer.
This new chip technology is a result of a six year “cognitive computing” project with 100 researchers and some $41 million in government funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. It started when IBM used progressively bigger supercomputers and simulated 40% of a mouse’s brain in 2006, 100% of a rat’s brain in 2007, and 1% of a human’s cerebral cortex in 2009. IBM didn’t disclose how much it spent on the project.