Thursday, February 12, 2009

News Digest Feb 12

Cognitive Computing Project Aims to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

Wired News (02/06/09) Ganapati, Priya

IBM Almaden Research Center cognitive computing project manager Dharmendra Modha has a plan to engineer the mind by reverse-engineering the brain.  Neuroscientists, computer engineers, and psychologists are working together to create a new computing architecture that simulates the brain's perception, interaction, and cognitive abilities.  The researchers hope to first simulate a human brain on a supercomputer, and then use new nano-materials to create logic gates and transistor-based equivalents of neurons and synapses to build a hardware-based, brain-like system.  The effort has received a $5 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is enough to run the first phase of the project.  The researchers say if the project is successful it could lead to a new computing system within the next decade.  "The idea is to do software simulations and build hardware chips that would be based on what we know about how the brain and how neural circuits work," say University of California-Merced professor and project participant Christopher Kello.  The researchers started by building a real-time simulation of a small cerebral cortex, which has the same structure in all mammals.  The simulation required 8 terabytes of memory on an IBM BlueGene/L supercomputer.  Modha says the simulation, although not complete, offered insights into the brain's high-level computational principles.  A human cerebral cortex is about 400 times larger than the small mammal simulation and would require a supercomputer with a memory capacity of 3.2 petabytes and a computational capacity of 36.8 petaflops.  While waiting for supercomputing technology to improve, the researchers are working on implementing neural architectures in silicon.

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