To borrow a title made famous by Monty Python to characterize a development announced in the August 7, 2014 edition of the New York Times, now for something completely different in, well, computing architecture, IBM has created a chip called TrueNorth that mimics some of the operations of the human brain. As covered in this report entitled IBM Develops a New Chip That Functions Like a Brain, this chip uses far less power than other chips built on more traditional technologies and, it is hoped, may enable the faster and more extensible processing and interpretation of certain classes of data. This article contains a link to the August 8, 2014 issue of Science by the IBM researchers with the technical details of their accomplishments. In addition to reading the full details of this fascinating article, I also suggest a click-through to another article on IBM Research’s own website to an article entitled Introducing a Brain-inspired Computer.
This is one of those remarkable developments where the inspiration for a unique technological advancement has been derived from human biology. The field of biomimetics has likewise produced innovative systems, designs and materials in many diverse fields such as, among others, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals and robotics.
As reported in the NYTimes story, the TrueNorth chip, this is being termed a “neuromorphic” chip because it imitates the functions of the brain’s neurons to better recognize patterns such as changes to the intensity and color of light or particular physical movements made by a person. The May/June 2014 edition of MIT’s Technology Review in its annual report on the Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies carried a highly informative article entitled Neuromorphic Chips as among one of 2014’s such areas.
The report further states that the chip’s “neurons” all run in parallel and can compute 46 millions operations per second. While not as fast as many of today’s other chips, by its very nature it is better able to handle certain types of operations that faster chips can process. Moreover, scientists believe that the speed of these chips will continue to scale up.
I am certain that as with many other strikingly original advances such as this, other applications will continue to emerge in the future for these chips that no has currently anticipated. I am greatly looking forward to seeing what they are and where they occur.