IBM Develops Neurosynaptic Chip, Functions Like the Human Brain

Paul Lilly

New chips boasts 1 million neurons and 256 million synapses

The human brain is a complex thing. So are computer chips, though we have a much better understanding of the latter than the former. By somewhat combining the two, scientists from IBM have developed the first neurosynaptic computer chip to achieve an unprecedented scale of 1 million programmable neurons, 256 million programmable synapses, and 46 billion synaptic operations per second.

IBM's SyNAPSE chip has 5.4 billion transistors, is a fully functional and production sclae part, and currently one of the largest CMOS chips ever built, though it only only consumes a scant 70mW, which is orders of magnitudes less than a modern processor, the company said.

SyNAPSE was built around a cognitive chip architecture with an on-chip-two-dimensional mesh network of 4,096 digital, distributed neurosynaptic cores, where each core module integrates memory, computation, and communication. It operates in an event-driven, parallel, and fault-tolerant fashion.

"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 – that complement today’s von Neumann machines – powered by an evolving ecosystem of systems, software, and services," said Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha , IBM Fellow and IBM Chief Scientist, Brain-Inspired Computing, IBM Research. "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 was fabricated using Samsung's 28nm process technology with dense on-chip memory and low-leakage transistors. Looking ahead, IBM hopes to integrate multi-sensory neurosynaptic processing into mobile devices constrained by power, volume, and speed.

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