Be prepared to live in a brave new world of machines, which are capable of displaying emotions and intelligence.
Someday it might be possible for us to build computers that can learn new things on their own, just as humans do. IBM claims that it has managed to develop the first generation of chips that will power computers, which can mimic the human brains cognition, perception, and action related abilities.
The chips are part of the six-year-old project that IBM was awarded by Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, an arm of USA government. The project has involved 100 researchers and some $41 million in funding from the US government. On its own, IBM has spent an undisclosed amount of money on the project.
The grant was part of Phase 2 of DARPA's Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) project, the goal of which, IBM said, is "to create a system that not only analyzes complex information from multiple sensory modalities at once but also dynamically rewires itself as it interacts with its environment--all while rivalling the brains compact size and low-power usage."
After three years of work on the project, these chips have been developed in two prototype designs. Each contains 256 neurons, while one has 262,144 programmable synapses, and the other has 65,536 learning synapses. They offer the evidence of the growing importance of "parallel processing," or computers doing multiple tasks simultaneously.
As of now the chips are only able to perform some mundane tasks, like steering a virtual vehicle through a maze, or playing elementary video games. It may be a decade or longer before the chips make their way out of the lab and into actual products. But what the chips are doing is not as important as how they are doing. They are showing the capability of adapting to new information that has not been originally fed to them.
According to a source close to the project, the chips have parts that behave like digital "neurons" and "synapses" that make them different than other chips. Each "core," or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions. In 2009, IBM had announced that its researchers had managed to stimulate a cats cerebral cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain, by using a massive supercomputer.
A computer that can display the power of a human brain is nowhere close to development. But the creation of the new chips is a significant step in that direction.