IBM’s Synapse chip: creating a neural computer like your brain

Technology giant IBM is developing a new type of chip to help computers think like humans.
Computers are pretty good at some things, like number crunching and logic, but terrible at others that are easy for our brains, like understanding images or conversation. And even when researchers train software to do things like recognise faces or cats, as Google has done, it requires hundreds or thousands of computers, consuming vast amounts of energy. The human brain can do so much more and uses only what an energy-saving light bulb would.
IBM hopes to close the gap between humans and machines by creating computer chips modelled on biological brains. The SyNAPSE chip it unveiled in August has a design that mimics the neural networks found inside your head. The chip isn’t great at the stuff traditional computers excel at. But it is far better suited to pattern recognition and processing images, sound and other sensory data. And the chip, which is the size of a postage stamp, requires a strikingly small amount of power – about that of a hearing-aid battery. IBM says its descendants could bring brain-like abilities to everything from smartphones to robots.

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