Chips that mimic the brain

July 22, 2013

No computer works as efficiently as the human brain – so much so that building an artificial brain is the goal of many scientists. Neuroinformatics researchers from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich have now made a breakthrough in this direction by understanding how to configure so-called neuromorphic chips to imitate the brain's information processing abilities in real-time. They demonstrated this by building an artificial sensory processing system that exhibits cognitive abilities.

New approach: simulating biological neurons

Most approaches in neuroinformatics are limited to the development of neural network models on conventional computers or aim to simulate complex nerve networks on supercomputers. Few pursue the Zurich researchers' approach to develop that are comparable to a real brain in terms of size, speed, and . "Our goal is to emulate the properties of biological neurons and synapses directly on microchips," explains Giacomo Indiveri, a professor at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (INI), of the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich.

The major challenge was to configure networks made of artificial, i.e. neuromorphic, neurons in such a way that they can perform particular tasks, which the researchers have now succeeded in doing: They developed a neuromorphic system that can carry out complex sensorimotor tasks in real time. They demonstrate a task that requires a short-term memory and context-dependent decision-making – typical traits that are necessary for . In doing so, the INI team combined neuromorphic neurons into networks that implemented neural processing modules equivalent to so-called "finite-state machines" – a to describe logical processes or computer programs. Behavior can be formulated as a "finite-state machine" and thus transferred to the neuromorphic hardware in an automated manner. "The network connectivity patterns closely resemble structures that are also found in mammalian brains," says Indiveri.

Chips can be configured for any behavior modes

The scientists thus demonstrate for the first time how a real-time hardware neural-processing system where the user dictates the behavior can be constructed. "Thanks to our method, neuromorphic chips can be configured for a large class of behavior modes. Our results are pivotal for the development of new brain-inspired technologies," Indiveri sums up. One application, for instance, might be to combine the chips with sensory neuromorphic components, such as an artificial cochlea or retina, to create complex cognitive systems that interact with their surroundings in real time.

Explore further: Problem-solving governs how we process sensory stimuli

More information: PNAS. July 22, 2013. Doi:10.1073/pnas.0709640104

Related Stories

Problem-solving governs how we process sensory stimuli

June 25, 2013

Various areas of the brain process our sensory experiences. How the areas of the cerebral cortex communicate with each other and process sensory information has long puzzled neu-roscientists. Exploring the sense of touch ...

Neuroscience to benefit from hybrid supercomputer memory

June 12, 2013

Motivated by extraordinary requirements for neuroscience, IBM Research, EPFL, and ETH Zürich through the Swiss National Supercomputing Center CSCS, are exploring how to combine different types of memory – DRAM, which is ...

Recommended for you

Rat brain atlas provides MR images for stereotaxic surgery

October 21, 2016

Boris Odintsov, senior research scientist at the Biomedical Imaging Center at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, and Thomas Brozoski, research professor ...

ALS study reveals role of RNA-binding proteins

October 20, 2016

Although only 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) cases are hereditary, a significant number of them are caused by mutations that affect proteins that bind RNA, a type of genetic material. University of California ...

Imaging technique maps serotonin activity in living brains

October 20, 2016

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that's partly responsible for feelings of happiness and for mood regulation in humans. This makes it a common target for antidepressants, which block serotonin from being reabsorbed by neurons ...

Overcoming egocentricity increases self-control

October 19, 2016

Neurobiological models of self-control usually focus on brain mechanisms involved in impulse control and emotion regulation. Recent research at the University of Zurich shows that the mechanism for overcoming egocentricity ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Fabio P_
5 / 5 (3) Jul 22, 2013
Correct link to the paper: http://www.pnas.o...abstract

1 / 5 (3) Jul 23, 2013
This will lead to better computers and probably artificial intelligence (though it'd be a long way off).

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.