Hal 9000 may be closer than you think

Computers, like humans, can learn, but it's only a narrow mimicry of what the human brain is capable of, reports AP/The Huffington Post. The challenge in training a computer to behave like a human brain is technological and physiological, testing the limits of computer and brain science.


IBM researchers have built two prototype chips that process data more like how humans digest information than the chips that now power PCs and supercomputers. That represents a significant milestone in a six-year-long project that has involved 100 researchers and some $41 million in funding from the government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA and IBM. The chips offer further evidence of the growing importance of "parallel processing," or computers doing multiple tasks simultaneously, important for rendering graphics and crunching large amounts of data.


It may be a decade or longer before the chips make their way out of the lab, but technologists have long imagined computers that learn like humans. Your iPhone or Google's servers can be programmed to predict certain behavior based on past events. But the techniques being explored by IBM and other companies and university research labs around "cognitive computing" could lead to chips that are better able to adapt to unexpected information.


Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital "neurons" and "synapses" that make them different than other chips. Each "core," or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions.


"You have to throw out virtually everything we know about how these chips are designed," he said. "The key, key, key difference really is the memory and the processor are very closely brought together. There's a massive, massive amount of parallelism."


"It really changes the perspective from `What if?' to `What now?'" Modha said. "Today we proved it was possible. There have been many skeptics, and there will be more, but this completes in a certain sense our first round of innovation."