Microchips Imitate Brain's Information Processing In Real Time
July 24, 2013

Newly Developed Microchip Mimics Processing Power Of The Human Brain

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Researchers from the US, Germany and Switzerland are now one step closer to developing an artificial brain, creating microchips that mimic the way the human mind processes information, according to new research appearing in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The electronic system was developed by a team of experts led by scientists at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, French news agency AFP reported on Tuesday, and is reportedly comparable to a person's brain in terms of size, speed and energy consumption. Their discovery could provide new insight into how the human mind - often described as the most efficient computer in the world - actually functions on an everyday basis, they added.

Working in a discipline known as neuroinformatics, which focuses on the organization of neuroscience data through the application of computational models and analytical tools, the developers were able to configure neuromorphic chips (electronic chips designed to mimic neuro-biological architectures in the central nervous system) to imitate the processing abilities of the human brain in real time, the university explained in a statement.

To demonstrate their concept, they managed to build an artificial sensory processing system that exhibits cognitive abilities. While researchers have been able to build electronic systems in the past that had the capability to react to their environments, Giacomo Indiveri, a University of Zurich neuroinformatics professor involved in the research, said their project went even further.

In fact, in a report published by Discovery News, Indiveri said he and his colleagues were able to use neuromorphic chips as artificial neurons in order to create networks able to perform tasks that require short-term memory, decision making skills and analytical ability.

By doing so, the university claims the researchers were able to combine neuromorphic neurons into networks that implemented neural processing modules equivalent to what are known as "finite-state machines." The term finite-state machines is a mathematical concept used to describe logical processes or computer programs, and once behavior can be formulated in this way it can be transferred to the neuromorphic hardware automatically.

"The network connectivity patterns closely resemble structures that are also found in mammalian brains," Indiveri said, adding his team's goal was to "emulate the properties of biological neurons and synapses directly on microchips," and because of their method, neuromorphic chips could be "configured for a large class of behavior modes. Our results are pivotal for the development of new brain-inspired technologies."

The researchers note there are several potential applications for the new technology. For one thing, the chips could be combined with sensory neuromorphic components (for example, an artificial retina) in order to form complex cognitive systems capable of interacting with their surroundings in real time, the university said.

Indiveri also told the AFP the technology could help robots navigate an environment autonomously, without any input from people at all, and that it could be used to enhance future smart phones.