Perhaps IBM should change its full name to International Brain Machine - as a result of the company's announcement that it has developed a new computer chip that is modeled on the architecture of the brain.
Aside from potentially being able to process calculations faster than today's most powerful supercomputers and leap tall buildings in a single bound, the new chip consumes very little power.
The postage-sized chip contains over 5.4 billion transistors while only drawing 70 milliwatts of power. Most Intel processors with which we are familiar only carry 1.4 billion transistors while churning up to 140 heat-generating watts.
The chip has been given the name TrueNorth by IBM. Its transistor architecture is modeled on neural networks found in the brain, in which synapses form interconnected groups of neurons, mimicking the way the brain processes and recognizes patterns.
The TrueNorth chip is part of IBM's SyNAPSE program. The Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) is a "neurosynaptic computer chip," according to IBM's description. It contains over 256 million neural connections, or synapses, and 1 million "neurons." Still, that's no brain compared to the real thing, which hosts around 86 trillion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. Of course, the real brain is a lot physically larger, usually.
IBM claims that the new chip's capabilities are unprecedented, and that it is fully functional and is one of the largest CMOS chips ever built - yet only consumes "orders of magnitude" less power than a modern microprocessor, consuming energy comparable to that of a hearing aid.
IBM sees this chip as being especially adept with vision, auditory and multi-sensory applications, for use in science, by businesses, government and society.
Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha, IBM Fellow and IBM Chief Scientist, Brain-Inspired Computing, IBM Research gave voice to the revolutionary nature of the new chip, saying "IBM has broken new ground in the field of brain-inspired computers, in terms of a radically new architecture, unprecedented scale, unparalleled power/area/speed efficiency, boundless scalability and innovative design techniques. We foresee new generations of information technology systems powere by an evolving ecosystem of systems, software and services. These brain-inspired chips could transform mobility, via sensory and intelligent applications that can fit in the palm of your hand but without the need for Wi-Fi."
The chip makes extensive use of Samsung's 28nm process technology that utilizes a dense on-chip memory and low-leakage transistors. Samsung developed the technology for use in mobile devices.