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IBM lab builds computerized cat brain

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ROTM Mad scientists at IBM say they've made "significant progress" towards creating a computer chip that can emulate the human brain's ability to sense, perceive, comprehend, and interact with the real world*.

Big Blue says its ultimate goal is to develop computer systems that can handle with real-world ambiguity and interact with complex environments in a context-dependent manner.

The rise of our robotic overlords is not quite nigh, but IBM said it has already simulated a cat-sized cerebral cortex — the area of the brain that's key to memory, attention, and consciousness — using a massive Blue Gene supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

This feline-scale cortical simulation, which was made with the help of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, included 1 billion neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses. The simulation ran 100 to 1,000 times slower than real-time, said Dharmendra Modha, manager of IBM's Cognitive Computing unit at its Almaden Research Center, in a blog post.

The IBM team's latest simulation results represent a model about 4.5% the scale of the human cerebral cortex, which was run at 1/83 of real time. The machine used provided 144TB of memory and 0.5PFLop/s [petaFLOPS per second].

Turning to the future, you can see that running human scale cortical simulations will probably require 4 PB of memory and to run these simulations in real time will require over 1 EFLop/s [exaFLOPS per second]. If the current trends in supercomputing continue, it seems that human-scale simulations will be possible in the not too distant future.

Modha notes that the research is mostly focused on developing the simulator as a scientific tool to study the behavior and dynamic of the brain rather than making a system that would — for example — behave like a cat. That sort of thing is still beyond the grasp of modern neuroscience.</p

"Our hope is that by incorporating many of the ingredients that neuroscientists think may be important to cognition in the brain, such as general statistical connectivity pattern and plastic synapses ["plastic" meaning the strength of connections can change according to certain rules], we may be able to use the model as a tool to help understand how the brain produces cognition," he said.

The brain model research is complemented by IBM's collaboration with Stanford University to develop an algorithm that uses the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture to measure and map cortical and sub-cortical wiring in a human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging.

Big Blue says the algorithm and simulator combined will allow scientists to experiment with mathematical hypotheses of brain function and structure as they work towards building a "cognitive computing chip" that could be used to solve some of the world's most complicated computing problem — or gain sentience shortly after its placed in control of all of the US military's weaponry and decide humans are a threat to existence when its operators try to shut the system down. 50/50 chance, we'd reckon. ®

*Yes, but can it love!?

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