Even today’s best supercomputers cannot rival the sophistication of the human brain. Computers are linear, moving data back and forth between memory chips and a central processor over a high-speed backbone. The brain, on the other hand, is fully interconnected, with logic and memory intimately cross-linked at billions of times the density and diversity of that found in a modern computer. Neuromorphic chips aim to process information in a fundamentally different way from traditional hardware, mimicking the brain’s architecture to deliver a huge increase in a computer’s thinking and responding power.
Miniaturization has delivered massive increases in conventional computing power over the years, but the bottleneck of shifting data constantly between stored memory and central processors uses large amounts of energy and creates unwanted heat, limiting further improvements. In contrast, neuromorphic chips can be more energy efficient and powerful, combining data-storage and data-processing components into the same interconnected modules. In this sense, the system copies the networked neurons that, in their billions, make up the human brain.
Neuromorphic technology will be the next stage in powerful computing, enabling vastly more rapid processing of data and a better capacity for machine learning. IBM’s million-neuron TrueNorth chip, revealed in prototype in August 2014, has a power efficiency for certain tasks that is hundreds of times superior to a conventional CPU (Central Processing Unit), and more comparable for the first time to the human cortex. With vastly more compute power available for far less energy and volume, neuromorphic chips should allow more intelligent small-scale machines to drive the next stage in miniaturization and artificial intelligence.
Potential applications include: drones better able to process and respond to visual cues, much more powerful and intelligent cameras and smartphones, and data-crunching on a scale that may help unlock the secrets of financial markets or climate forecasting. Computers will be able to anticipate and learn, rather than merely respond in pre-programmed ways.
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Topic: Wirelessly Powered Brain Implant Could Treat Depression
A wirelessly powered implant the size of a grain of rice can electrically stimulate the brains of mice as the rodents do what they please. The new gadget could help scientists better understand and treat mental health disorders such as depression, according to a new study.
The human brain is the most powerful computer known, an extraordinary assembly of living electrical circuits. To gain greater understanding of how the human brain works — and how to fix any problems with it — neuroscientists would like to electrically stimulate the brains of simpler animals as they scurry around, carry out tasks and respond to their surroundings.
Tiny, untethered brain-stimulating devices would permit animals to move, behave and react freely during experiments. However, batteries are too heavy and bulky to fit into such small gizmos. Instead, these inventions could be wirelessly powered using magnetic induction, wherein one coil of wire can transmit energy to another coil using magnetic fields. [Top 10 Mysteries of the Mind]
“Wireless neural stimulation in mice has been demonstrated many times before, and in many of these systems, the mice could freely move over a large area,” said study senior author Ada Poon, an electrical engineer at Stanford University in California.
However, previous wireless brain-stimulating devices were limited by their power-harvesting components. If these parts were small, power was lost if the animals moved away from the spot where the energy was focused, which limited how far the animals could roam. On the other hand, if these parts were large, they were typically too big to be implanted.
Other labs either used bulky devices mounted on the skulls of mice, or used complex arrays of coils paired with sensors to locate the mice and deliver power. “To us that sounded like a lot of work,” Poon told Live Science. “We were ‘lazy.’ The ‘laziness’ led us to be more creative.”
Now the researchers have created implantable wirelessly powered brain-stimulating devices by essentially using the mouse’s body to help collect energy.
“Surprisingly, it works,” Poon said. “Engineers tend to think of complex solutions, but sometimes if we back off a bit and think out of the box, we might be able to come up with some crazy but workable solutions that are simpler.”
The roughly cylindrical device is about 2 millimeters wide, 3 mm long, and 20 mm in weight, making it about 100 times smaller and lighter than previous devices. “We like to compare the size with a grain of rice of the slightly thicker sort,” Poon said.
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