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IBM Unveils a ‘Brain-Like’ Chip With 4,000 Processor Cores

Discussion in 'Science & Technology' started by micropage7, Aug 8, 2014.

  1. micropage7


    Mar 26, 2010
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    Jakarta, Indonesia
    The human brain is the world’s most
    sophisticated computer, capable of learning new
    things on the fly, using very little data. It can
    recognize objects, understand speech, respond to
    change. Since the early days of digital technology,
    scientists have worked to build computers that
    were more like the three-pound organ inside your
    Most efforts to mimic the brain have focused on
    software, but in recent years, some researchers
    have ramped up efforts to create neuro-inspired
    computer chips that process information in
    fundamentally different ways from traditional
    hardware. This includes an ambitious project
    inside tech giant IBM, and today, Big Blue
    released a research paper describing the latest
    fruits of these labors. With this paper, published
    in the academic journal Science, the company
    unveils what it calls TrueNorth, a custom-made
    “brain-like” chip that builds on a simpler
    experimental system the company released in
    TrueNorth comes packed with 4,096 processor
    cores, and it mimics one million human neurons
    and 256 million synapses, two of the fundamental
    biological building blocks that make up the
    human brain. IBM calls these “spiking neurons.”
    What that means, essentially, is that the chip can
    encode data as patterns of pulses, which is
    similar to one of the many ways neuroscientists
    think the brain stores information.
    “This is a really neat experiment in architecture,”
    says Carver Mead, a professor emeritus of
    engineering and applied science at the California
    Institute of Technology who is often considered
    the granddaddy of “neuromorphic” hardware. “It’s
    a fine first step.” Traditional processors—like the
    CPUs at the heart of our computers and the GPUs
    that drive graphics and other math-heavy tasks—
    aren’t good at encoding data in this brain-like
    way, he explains, and that’s why IBM’s chip
    could be useful. “Representing information with
    the timing of nerve pulses…that’s just not been a
    thing that digital computers have had a way of
    dealing with in the past,” Mead says.
    IBM has already tested the chip’s ability to drive
    common artificial intelligence tasks, including
    recognizing images, and according to the
    company, its neurons and synapses can handle
    such tasks with usual speed, using much less
    power than traditional off-the-shelf chips. When
    researchers challenged the thing with DARPA’s
    NeoVision2 Tower dataset—which includes images
    taken from video recorded atop Stanford
    University’s Hoover Tower—TrueNorth was able
    to recognize things like people, cyclists, cars,
    buses, and trucks with about 80 percent
    accuracy. What’s more, when the researchers
    then fed TrueNorth streaming video at 30 frames
    per second, it only burned 63 mW of power as it
    processed the data in real time.
    “There’s no CPU. There’s no GPU, no hybrid
    computer that can come within even a couple of
    orders of magnitude of where we are,” says
    Dharmendra Modha, the man who oversees the
    project. “The chip is designed for real-time power
    efficiency.” Nobody else, he claims, “can deliver
    this in real time at the vast scales we’re talking
    about.” The trick, he explains, is that you can tile
    the chips together easily to create a massive
    neural network. IBM created a 16-chip board just
    a few weeks ago that can process video in real
    Both these chips and this board are just research
    prototypes, but IBM is already hawking the
    technology as something that will revolutionize
    everything from cloud services, supercomputers,
    and smartphone technology. It’s “a new machine
    for a new era,” says Modha. “We really think this
    is a new landmark in the history of brain-inspired
    computing.” But others question whether this
    technology is all that different from current
    systems and what it can actually do.
    Beyond von Neumann
    IBM’s chip research is part of the SyNAPSE
    project, short for Systems of Neuromorphic
    Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, a massive
    effort from DARPA, the Defense Department’s
    research arm, to create a brain-like hardware.
    The ultimate aim of the project—which has
    invested about $53 million since 2008 in IBM’s
    project alone—is to create hardware that breaks
    the von Neumann paradigm, the standard way of
    building computers.
    In a von Neumann computer, the storage and
    handling of data is divvied up between the
    machine’s main memory and its central
    processing unit. To do their work, computers
    carry out a set of instructions, or programs,
    sequentially by shuttling data from memory
    (where it’s stored) to the CPU (where it’s
    crunched). Because the memory and CPU are
    separated, data needs to be transferred
    This creates a bottleneck and requires lots of
    energy. There are ways around this, like using
    multi-core chips that can run tasks in parallel or
    storing things in cache—a special kind of memory
    that sits closer to the processor—but this buys
    you only so much speed-up and not so much in
    power. It also means that computers are never
    really working in real-time, says Mead, because of
    the communication roadblock.
    We don’t completely understand how the brain
    works. But in his seminal work, The Computer
    and the Brain, as John von Neumann himself
    said that brain is something fundamentally
    different from the computing architecture that
    bears his name, and ever since, scientists have
    been trying to understand how the brain encodes
    and processes information with the hope that they
    can translate that into smarter computers.
    Neuromorphic chips developed by IBM and a
    handful of others don’t separate the data-storage
    and data-crunching parts of the computer.
    Instead, they pack the memory, computation and
    communication parts into little modules that
    process information locally but can communicate
    with each other easily and quickly. This, IBM
    researchers say, resembles the circuits found in
    the brain, where the separation of computation
    and storage isn’t as cut and dry, and it’s what
    buys the thing added energy efficiency—arguably
    the chip’s best selling point to date.
    But Can It Learn?
    But some question how novel the chip really is.
    “The good point about the architecture is that
    memory and computation are close. But again, if
    this does not scale to state-of-art problems, it
    will not be different from current systems where
    memory and computation are physically
    separated,” says Eugenio Culurciello, a professor
    at Purdue University, who works on neuromorphic
    systems for vision and helped develop the
    NeuFlow platform in neural-net pioneer Yann
    LeCun’s lab at NYU.

    So far, it’s unclear how well TrueNorth performs
    when it’s put to the test on large-scale state-of-
    the-art problems like recognizing very many
    different types of objects. It seems to have
    performed well on a simple image detection and
    recognition tasks using used DARPA’s NeoVision2
    Tower dataset. But as some critics point out,
    that’s only five categories of objects. The object
    recognition software used at Baidu and Google,
    for example, is trained on the ImageNet database,
    which boasts thousands of object categories.
    Modha says they started with NeoVision because
    it was a DARPA-mandated metric, but they are
    working on other datasets including ImageNet.
    Others say that in order to break with current
    computing paradigms, neurochips should learn.
    “It’s definitely an achievement to make a chip of
    that scale…but I think the claims are a bit
    stretched because there is no learning happening
    on chip,” says Nayaran Srinivasa, a researcher at
    HRL Laboratories who’s working on similar
    technologies (also funded by SyNAPSE). “It’s not
    brain-like in a lot of ways.” While the
    implementation does happen on TrueNorth, all the
    learning happens off-line, on traditional
    computers. “The von Neumann component is
    doing all the ‘brain’ work, so in that sense it’s
    not breaking any paradigm.”
    To be fair, most learning systems today rely
    heavily on off-line learning, whether they run on
    CPUs or faster, more power-hungry GPUs. That’s
    because learning often requires reworking the
    algorithms and that’s much harder to do on
    hardware because it’s not as flexible. Still, IBM
    says on-chip learning is not something they’re
    ruling out.
    Critics say the technology still has very many
    tests to pass before it can supercharge data
    centers or power new breeds of intelligent phones,
    cameras, robots or Google Glass-like
    contraptions. To think that we’re going to have
    brain-like computer chips in our hands soon
    would be “misleading,” says LeCun, whose lab
    has worked on neural-net hardware for years.
    “I’m all in favor of building special-purpose chips
    for running neural nets. But I think people should
    build chips to implement algorithms that we know
    work at state of the art level,” he says. “This
    avenue of research is not going to pan out for
    quite a while, if ever. They may get neural net
    accelerator chips in their smartphones soonish,
    but these chips won’t look at all like the IBM
    chip. They will look more like modified GPUs.”

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  2. FordGT90Concept

    FordGT90Concept "I go fast!1!11!1!"

    Oct 13, 2008
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    IA, USA
    I suspect what they did is use non-volatile memory in place of volatile caches in the processor. This eliminates the need for the core to leave itself except when it needs to obtain information from another core.

    As to making a computer learn, I don't think there is a hardware means to achieve that now or in the near future. Neurons are living cells that are capable of changing and forming new connections. There's nothing in electronic hardware like that. I think making computers learn is still going to have to stem from software that edits its own code.
    Peter1986C says thanks.
    Crunching for Team TPU
  3. lilhasselhoffer

    Apr 2, 2011
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    Because I trust Wired for my technological news...

    I also trust the Guardian and Onion to be 100% accurate and have absolutely no joking material.

    In all seriousness, this is a repost of old news. Way back in 2009, this kind of thing was all the rage:http://discovermagazine.com/2009/oct/06-brain-like-chip-may-solve-computers-big-problem-energy. What we have here is basically just a big company introducing the same technology. It's like seeing a Core2duo, and being surprised when years later they introduce a sandy bridge based processor.

    What IBM is failing to state is if they've overcome the "misfiring" issues, and whether or not their evolutionary processor can actually do any useful work. Wake me when they've got a good answer to both of these questions, because a 99% leap in efficiency mean nothing if you can't do anything useful with it.


    Allow me to retract the anger about doing anything useful. This chip can identify approximately shaped objects, better than our current binary computers are able to.

    Of course, a one in five inaccuracy rate isn't exactly burning up the world given the insane costs of a niche new processor architecture. I love the facts that they draw a comparison with deep blue, but it's an apples and oranges situation. Deep blue is an encyclopedia with reasonably good algorithms for finding data based on vocal cues. This is a processor with a new architecture designed to access information differently.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2014
    Peter1986C says thanks.
  4. Sasqui


    Dec 6, 2005
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    Manchester, NH
    Yea we're pretty far away from this:

    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 27, 2016
    10 Year Member at TPU
  5. TheMailMan78

    TheMailMan78 Big Member

    Jun 3, 2007
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    'Merica. The Great SOUTH!
    No we are not. My daughter already has those contacts and I've sported hair gel like that in the 90's. Get with the times son.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 27, 2016
    10 Year Member at TPU

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