Yes you better believe it; European scientists really have built a brain on a chip and this new ‘neural’ computer can apparently function just like a human brain only on a much smaller scale.
Ok so this brain chip doesn’t actually work exactly like a human brain, it isn’t as powerful as a human brain for a start, but it definitely marks some progress in brain science.
How the chip works is that it more or less copies the way that brain handles parallel data handling. Most of the research on parallel data handling so far has been done using computer software simulations which use a huge amount of computing power. The chip doesn’t, and it works about 100,000 times faster.
The team of scientists from Heidelberg University are part of a project called Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States or FACETS as it is known, which is led by physicist Karlheinz Meier.
“We can simulate a day in a second,” claims Meier. “Rather than simulating neurons, we are building them,” he explained.
The scientists built the computer brain chip using 200,000 neurons linked by 50 million synaptic connections which is much like the way the brain transfers information biologically.
The exciting thing about it is that there are no real limits on how far they can scale up the new brain chip design and the scientists are now planning to build another one, a type of super chip with around a billion neurons.
This might sound pretty impressive but an average human brain is estimated to have around 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses.
So, although there is little doubt that scientists have made and are continuing to make great progress towards a greater understanding of how the brain works and how it processes information, there is still much to learn in that area. Still, the building of a brain chip has got to be seen as a huge step forward.
Fast Analog Computing with Emerging Transient States is a European funded project which began in September 2005. It involves about 80 scientists from different fields of study including neuroscientists, physicists, computer scientists and engineers from 15 institutions in seven different countries, namely Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
The ambitious project has the aim of answering an as yet unsolved question, how does the brain compute?
I have often lost tons of sleep wondering that !