Thursday, November 19, 2009


Meow: IBM takes a (feline) step toward thinking machines

From Yahoo News:

SAN FRANCISCO - Scientists say they've made a breakthrough in their pursuit of computers that "think" like a living thing's brain — an effort that tests the limits of technology.

Even the world's most powerful supercomputers can't replicate basic aspects of the human mind. The machines can't imagine a wall painted a different color, for instance, or picture a person's face and connect that to an emotion.

If researchers can make computers operate more like a brain thinks — by reasoning and dealing with abstractions, among other things — they could unleash tremendous insights in such diverse fields as medicine and economics.

A computer with the power of a human brain is not yet near. But this week researchers from IBM Corp. are reporting that they've simulated a cat's cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer. The computer has 147,456 processors (most modern PCs have just one or two processors) and 144 terabytes of main memory — 100,000 times as much as your computer has.

The scientists had previously simulated 40 percent of a mouse's brain in 2006, a rat's full brain in 2007, and 1 percent of a human's cerebral cortex this year, using progressively bigger supercomputers.

The latest feat, being presented at a supercomputing conference in Portland, Ore., doesn't mean the computer thinks like a cat, or that it is the progenitor of a race of robo-cats.

The simulation, which runs 100 times slower than an actual cat's brain, is more about watching how thoughts are formed in the brain and how the roughly 1 billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses in a cat's brain work together.

The researchers created a program that told the supercomputer, which is in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to behave how a brain is believed to behave. The computer was shown images of corporate logos, including IBM's, and scientists watched as different parts of the simulated brain worked together to figure out what the image was.

Dharmendra Modha, manager of cognitive computing for IBM Research and senior author of the paper, called it a "truly unprecedented scale of simulation."