Innovation That Matters

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New microchip mimics human brain

Work & Lifestyle

A computer chip has been developed that can mimic the speed and processing capabilities of the human brain

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We have already seen advances in quantum computing, such as the development of quantum chips and electron refrigerators to keep quantum computers cool. But the ‘holy grail’ of computing has long been the creation of a computer that can mimic the human brain in the way it stores and processes information. Now, scientists have moved one step closer to that goal with the creation of a photonic microchip – a chip that uses light instead of electricity to create a super-fast computer chip that imitates the way the brain works. The chip was developed by researchers from Oxford, Münster and Exeter Universities.

One limitation of electronic computers is that they are relatively slow compared to the human brain, and the faster they become, the more power they consume. They also lack the built-in learning and parallel processing capabilities of the human brain. This is the case partly because of the large number of synapses in the human brain, which allow each neuron to send many messages in parallel.

By using phase-change materials, such as those found in re-writable optical discs, and specially-designed circuits, the team were able to deliver a chip that gave a biological-like synaptic response at speeds 1,000 times faster than those of the human brain. Explains Professor Wolfram Pernice, team member from the University of Münster: “Since synapses outnumber neurons in the brain by around 10,000 to 1, any brain-like computer needs to be able to replicate some form of synaptic mimic. That is what we have done here.” Will this new development allow the creation of computers that can think as flexibly and as fast as the human brain?




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