Scientists build largest ever computerized brain
Still as dumb as a bag of hammers
Canadian scientists have built a functioning computer simulation of the human brain, dubbed Spaun, that's able to recognize characters and perform simple actions.
The team at the University of Waterloo's Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience built the brain from 2.5 million computer-simulated neurons, compared to the average human, who has 80-100 billion.
The simulated neurons are modeled to behave as closely to human neurons as possible, and can be set up with specific algorithms to mimic different sections of the human brain.
The Spaun simulation also includes a simulated arm for movement and an eye capable of viewing a 28-by-28-pixel image. The brain can carry out eight functions, from drawing a symbol to more complex tasks such as ordering data, and the team is able to program in long and short-term memory functions.
"This is nothing like as quick as the human brain," Terrence Stewart, post-doctoral research associate on the project, told The Register. "It's got to be speeded up a massive amount before it even comes close – right now the system takes two and a half hours for the equivalent of a few second's thought."
No HAL in the cards just yet, then, in fact it makes Honey Boo-Boo look like Einstein, but the Spaun model is proving very useful at modeling areas of the brain for study. One of the neuron clusters developed covers the part of the brain most affected by Parkinson's Disease, and other applications are possible to map out cognition.
So far the model code is reaching the limits of what can be done, since the team is approaching the limits to how far you can scale the Java software (which is available here). But as the system improves, Spaun could help find new ways of working out just what is going on in those noggins of ours.
The full details have now been published in the journal Science. ®
Re: So far the model code is reaching the limits of what can be done...
Yup, Java's definitely holding us back right now on this version (I'm the Terrence Stewart quoted in the article). We've been focused so much on the research aspect (how can you connect up realistic neurons to perform the tasks we think different parts of the brain are supposed to do) that we haven't spent much time on the pure computer science question of "how fast can we make it go". I tossed together a quick Theano version of the core inner loop (Python compiled to C optimized for matrix operations) a few weekends ago and got a 100x speedup on a simplified model without much problem. And we've got some work on a CUDA implementation, and a student working on an FPGA version. Oh, and we've been in close contact with Steve Furber at Manchester, so we can make use of his SpiNNaker project (a giant supercomputer made of one million custom ARM processors). So I think there's tons of easy to do things to speed this up, now that we've demonstrated that it can work.
Re: How about ..
By that measure, it should be possible to simulate our illustrious deputy PM using only a matchbox and a peanut.
As for the respected leader of the opposition, he can be simulated using only a petulant expression.
Re: How about ..
"a simpler but still meaningful target?
David Cameron might be less challenging than a complex colony animal.