Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Insane in the Membrane


IBM Research in Zurich has created the world's first artificial nanoscale stochastic phase-change neurons. IBM has already created a population of 500 of these artificial neurons and used them to process a signal in a brain-like (neuromorphic) way.  This breakthrough is particularly notable because the phase-change neurons are fashioned out of well-understood materials that can scale down to a few nanometres, and because they are capable of firing at high speed but with low energy requirements. Also important is the neurons' stochasticity—that is, their ability to always produce slightly different, random results, like biological neurons [..]

[T]hese phase-change neurons are the closest we've come to creating artificial devices that behave like biological neurons, perhaps leading us towards efficient, massively parallel computer designs that apply neuromorphic approaches to decision-making and processing sensory information [..]

So far, IBM has built 10x10 crossbar arrays of neurons, connected five of those arrays together to create neuronal populations of up to 500 neurons, and then processed broadband signals in a novel, brain-like way. (In technical terms, the neurons showed the same "population coding" that emerges in biological neurons, and the signal processing circumvented the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem).

There's no reason to stop there, though. Now it's time put thousands of these phase-change neurons onto a single chip—and then the difficult bit: writing some software that actually makes use of the chip's neuromorphosity.