IBM unveils ‘brain-inspired’ TrueNorth chip with supercomputer power

The new IBM chip is codenamed TrueNorth

IBM has announced a second generation of its neurosynaptic processor chip, which is claimed to comprise a million neurons and 256 million synapses, making it the equivalent of a supercomputer the size of a postage stamp while consuming just 70MW of power, IBM said.

The new chip, codenamed TrueNorth, follows on from the chip IBM unveiled last year as part of the Synapse (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) programme, but is the first to be capable of 46 billion synaptic operations per second per watt of energy, according to the firm.

Still essentially a research project, the chip points the way to a future where such brain-inspired computer chips could complement conventional processors to open up new applications, according to Dr Dharmendra Modha, an IBM fellow and chief scientist for Brain-Inspired Computing.

“IBM has broken new ground in the field of brain-inspired computers, in terms of a radically new architecture, unprecedented scale, unparalleled power/area/speed efficiency, boundless scalability and innovative design techniques,” he said.

“We foresee new generations of information technology systems – that complement today’s von Neumann machines – powered by an evolving ecosystem of systems, software, and services.”

The new chip is implemented as a two-dimensional mesh network of 4,096 digital neurosynaptic cores, where each core module integrates memory, computation and communication, and operates in an event-driven parallel fashion, IBM said.

In fact, each core is made up of a number of digital neuron circuits, combined with crossbar Static RAM serving as the equivalent of synapses to create the digital equivalent of the kind of wiring found in the brain.

With 5.4 billion transistors, TrueNorth is actually IBM’s largest ever chip in terms of transistor count, Modha said. It is being manufactured using Samsung’s 28nm fabrication technology.

However, TrueNorth chips can also be tiled to create larger neuromorphic systems. IBM said it has already built systems with 16 million neurons and four billion synapses by tiling 16 chips on one board.

The firm said it has now set itself the goal of integrating 4,096 chips in a single rack to deliver four billion neurons and one trillion synapses while consuming about 4kW of power, while over time, Synapse technology is intended to become an integral component of IBM’s Watson offerings.

The whole point of the project is to be able to carry out tasks that would require enormous amounts of infrastructure and processing power to accomplish using conventional computer architectures.

“If we think of today’s von Neumann computers as akin to the “left-brain” (fast, symbolic, number-crunching calculators) then TrueNorth can be likened to the “right-brain” (slow, sensory, pattern recognising machines),” Modha said, writing in IBM’s Research blog.

This is likely to require new programming approaches if users are to get the expected benefits, which IBM concedes and said it is moving to address.

“To harness TrueNorth, we have designed an end-to-end ecosystem complete with a new simulator, a new programming language, an integrated programming environment, new libraries, new (and old) algorithms as well as applications, and a new teaching curriculum (affectionately called Synapse University),” Modha said.

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8 August 2014 | 3:36 pm – Source: v3.co.uk

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