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: How connections in the brain must change to form memories could help to develop artificial cognitive computers

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

Related Stories

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 ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


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.