Computer scientists at the University of Manchester say that they have created working models of human brain functions using chips based on ARM processor technology.
The project aim is to form a system architecture called Spinnaker (Spiking Neural Network Architecture) which can be a integral tool for neuroscientists, psychologists, and doctors to help them understand complex brain injuries, diseases, and other conditions.
“We don’t know how the brain works as an information-processing system, but we need to find out,” says Professor Steve Furber FIET from the University’s School of Computer Science. “Spinnaker will help gain key insights to brain activity, and patients will benefit from this.”
Modelling the 100 billion neurons with 1000 million connections typical to the human brain, Spinnaker allows the neurons to release spikes which are relayed as tiny electrical signals. Each impulse is modelled in the system as a ‘packet’ of IP data, comparable to the way the Internet transports information. This ‘packet’ is then transmitted to all connected neurons. The neurons are represented by basic equations which are processed in real-time by software on the ARM chips. Each chip contains 18 ARM processors integrated in a single 19mm square package, with a second microchip that provides substantial memory using 3D system-in-package (SiP) technology.
Researchers claim that the electronic connections in Spinnaker can actually convey these spikes faster than the biological connections in the human brain; hence Spinnaker can transmit spikes effectively with fewer connections, the Manchester team aver.