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Will We Ever Have a Fully Digital Brain?

• David Zax via TechnologyReview.com
 

Brains and computers, it has been observed before, are at once similar and different. The things in our heads and at our fingertips are both information processing systems, but they go about it in very different ways—which is to be suspected when comparing an organ crafted gradually over millions of years with a device that didn't exist so much as a few decades ago. A team of British researchers is looking to close the gap, by building a computer that more closely mimics how the brain actually works. ARM is putting up a million of its processors to help in the task—but even with that processing power, the project only hopes to simulate about 1 percent of the human brain. The project has about $8 million in funding from EPRSC.

At the heart of the project is Steve Furber, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Manchester. One of his central interests is how it is that brains manage to continue to function when parts of it fail--a phenomenon known as plasticity—while the same is not true of computers. "We don't know how to design things with that resilience," he told ZDNet UK. His team will use the chips as part of its SpiNNaker project (a stylistically spelled "abbreviation" of Spiking Neural Network architecture), which, according to the project's site, uses "massive parallelism and redundancy" to mimic the brain's structure, which after all operates by conscripting billions of neurons to work in tandem.

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