Report: IBM developing computer system that thinks like a human


Craig Manning

Check this out: earlier this week, Gigaom.com reported that researchers had built a computer simulator, a programming language, and a series of applications and algorithms designed for computing on the level of the human brain. Believe it or not, that sentence is not the plot set-up for a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie (at least not yet). Instead, it’s the latest development in computing to come out of IBM’s research lab, and it could mean big things for technology.

IBM and several unnamed partner groups have been working on the intuitive computer system for awhile now, all as part of a project for the Federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project is known as SyNAPSE, or Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, and it has what a principal investigator at IBM Research called “a very modest goal” of creating a brain-like computer.

The latest developments from IBM aren’t limited to their advanced computer chips, which supposedly have the power to adapt to new information in real time. Arguably more important is the behemoth software simulator that researchers have developed to fit those chips. The simulation is designed to mimic the number of connected neurosynaptic cores, or synapses, in the human brain, which in essence will allow the computer to think, adapt, and learn in the way that a human can.

In addition to the chips and the simulator, IBM have generated a new programming language designed to handle and process many simple tasks at once, just like a brain would. Finally, researchers have written algorithms and applications to better take advantage of the so-called “Corelet programming language,” allowing their computer to recognize and predict sequences, detect nearby movement, or even identify a musical score by a composer.

Evidently, DARPA is pleased with IBM’s work thus far: the government agency granted IBM $12 million in additional funding to move forward, money that will be used to improve the hardware and software of the SyNAPSE machine, as well as provide for education about the system and the complex programming language it demands.

For IBM, the SyNAPSE project is, in many ways, the realization of a long-held dream. While researchers have not yet speculated on where their cognitive computer chips could end up when they finally arrive in the IBM product stable somewhere down the road, there is no doubt that IBM is determined to see their latest developments through to completion: IBM has been focusing heavily on brain-like computing for the better part of a decade.

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For IBM, the SyNAPSE project is, in many ways, the realization of a long-held dream.

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