IBM’s TrueNorth chip wants to replicate our brains

Computers can’t replace our brains quite yet, but they are now starting to replicate them. IBM has made a computer chip called TrueNorth that manages to fit a million neurons, 256 million synapses and 4096 parallel cores into an area the size of a postage stamp. It’s capable of 46 billion synaptic operations per second, per watt, which seems like a lot. (An early prototype in 2011 only squeezed in 256 neurons).

And it does all this using far less energy than traditional chips, just 70 milliwatts, which, as Mashable points out, is equivalent to a hearing aid. This is because it only runs when it’s needed.

As a post on the company’s research blog explains, their team is hoping to mesh the traditional analytical side of computing with the sensory capabilities of neurosynaptic chips, creating something that can think and feel, much like the human brain.

This could lead to more powerful mobile phones that we can imagine, plus all kinds of applications to help disabled people be more independent (including self-driving cars and smart glasses for blind people that don’t require WiFi).

The engineers have designed a whole new infrastructure and programming language around the new chip, which they want to make available as soon as possible. The chips can be tiled to increase their effectiveness, and their next goal is to fit 4,096 chips (and therefore 4 billion neurons and 1 trillion synapses) onto a single rack, while only using 4 kilowatts of power.

But if you’re feeling a little outclassed, don’t despair: human brains are still more intelligent than their computing equivalent, and it’s going to stay that way… For at least another six years, according to IBM.

Image credit: IBM Research.

Diane Shipley