Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Human Brain: Inspiration For Modern Computers

The Human Brain

Biological Computers:  Waldro of Nature writes: The system is explicitly designed for
real-world applications. On a five-year timescale, says Boahen, ‘we envision building
fully autonomous robots that interact with their environments in a meaningful way, and
operate in real-time while [their brains] consume as much electricity as a cell phone.’ Such
devices would be much more flexible and adaptive than today's autonomous robots, and
would consume considerably less power.
Credit & Source: Nature

An article, by M. Mitchell Waldro, in Nature News says that the human brain is a highly efficient model of how a modern computer ought to work, which is what Kwabena Boahen, a bio-engineer at Stanford University in California is working on to prove and promote. Boahen is doing this by what engineers call reverse-engineering, that is, taking an existing technology and working backwards, so to speak, to see how it was originally designed and put together. In this case, the technology” is the human brain.

M. Mitchell Waldrop writes:
The brain is remarkably energy efficient and can carry out computations that challenge the world's largest supercomputers, even though it relies on decidedly imperfect components: neurons that are a slow, variable, organic mess. Comprehending language, conducting abstract reasoning, controlling movement — the brain does all this and more in a package that is smaller than a shoebox, consumes less power than a household light bulb, and contains nothing remotely like a central processor.
To achieve similar feats in silicon, researchers are building systems of non-digital chips that function as much as possible like networks of real neurons. Just a few years ago, Boahen completed a device called Neurogrid that emulates a million neurons —about as many as there are in a honeybee's brain. And now, after a quarter-century of development, applications for ‘neuromorphic technology’ are finally in sight. The technique holds promise for anything that needs to be small and run on low power, from smartphones and robots to artificial eyes and ears. That prospect has attracted many investigators to the field during the past five years, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding from agencies in both the United States and Europe.
Neuromorphic devices are also providing neuroscientists with a powerful research tool, says Giacomo Indiveri at the Institute of Neuroinformatics (INI) in Zurich, Switzerland. By seeing which models of neural function do or do not work as expected in real physical systems, he says, “you get insight into why the brain is built the way it is."
As scientists dig further, they are finding out that the human brain is an amazing instrument of power, imagination and knowledge—and yet compact and highly efficient in solving problems and in communicating effectively, at least in the best of us. Computers and other communication technologies are not yet close to achieving these notable aspects of the human brain, ones that most of us take for granted.

If Boahen at Stanford University is successful in his research and does develop a low-power and efficient computer, a so-called neuromorphic device that more resembles us, that would be some accomplishment.

You can read the rest of the article at [Nature].