Brain On A Chip?

By | March 19, 2009

How does the human brain run itself without any software? Find that out, say European researchers, and a whole new field of neural computing will open up. A prototype ‘brain on a chip’ is already working.

“We know that the brain has amazing computational capabilities,” remarks Karlheinz Meier, a physicist at Heidelberg University. “Clearly there is something to learn from biology. I believe that the systems we are going to develop could form part of a new revolution in information technology.”

It’s a strong claim, but Meier is coordinating the EU-supported FACETS project which brings together scientists from 15 institutions in seven countries to do just that. Inspired by research in neuroscience, they are building a ‘neural’ computer that will work just like the brain but on a much smaller scale.

The human brain is often likened to a computer, but it differs from everyday computers in three important ways: it consumes very little power, it works well even if components fail, and it seems to work without any software.

How does it do that? Nobody yet knows, but a team within FACETS is completing an exhaustive study of brain cells – neurons – to find out exactly how they work, how they connect to each other and how the network can ‘learn’ to do new things.

Mapping brain cells

“We are now in a situation like molecular biology was a few years ago when people started to map the human genome and make the data available,” Meier says. “Our colleagues are recording data from neural tissues describing the neurons and synapses and their connectivity. This is being done almost on an industrial scale, recording data from many, many neural cells and putting them in databases.”

via Brain On A Chip?.

Artifical neural networks have been around for a long time now and they have been doing real work, predicting the stock market, recognizing patterns for the military, etc.

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