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New Computer Will Simulate One Billion Neurons

What's the Latest Development?

Using ARM processors, analog computer chips similar to those found in mobile phones, a team of British computer scientists hope to create the best-ever electronic simulation of the human brain. Called SpiNNaker, "the machine will consist of 57 600 custom-designed chips, each of which contains 18 low-power ARM9 processor cores. ... As with most other brain models, SpiNNaker’s operation is centered on the 'spike'—an idealization of the electrical impulse sent out by firing neurons. The information needed to model a spike is tiny: You can condense it down to a single packet containing just 40 bits."

What's the Big Idea?

By making alternations to how the analog chips communicate with each other, compared with a traditional supercomputer, the team of researchers expects their machine to model brain activity with speeds matching those of biological systems. "When it’s finished, SpiNNaker will be able to simulate the behavior of 1 billion neurons. That’s just 1 percent as many as are in a human brain but more than 10 times as many as are in the brain of one of neuroscience’s most popular test subjects, the mouse." The project will shed further light onto new computing methods as well as provide insights into brain diseases and how to treat them. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com


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