If the Matrix or I, Robot‘s view of artificial intelligence sent chilly shivers down your spine, then prepare for frostbite: IBM’s artificial brain is now as smart as a cat–just a stop or two down the line from human powers.
Speaking at the SC09 high-performance computing conference this week, IBM representatives from the cognitive computing team will be unveiling all the technical details behind their successes with large-scale cortical simulation and brain-like emulation. But it boils down quite neatly to news that the team has, for the first time, performed an in-computer simulation of a brain’s workings at a near-instantaneous speed.
The magic is all done in software, with particularly clever program elements that emulate the biochemical and electrical activity of neurons and synapses in real flesh-and-blood brains. By hooking together over a billion simulated neurons and 10 trillion (that’s 10,000 billion) learning synapses, the overall simulated brain is actually slightly more capable than the brain of your average house cat. On paper, at least–because there remains the huge problem of training the cyberbrain to do recognizably intelligent things, things that, say, a cat would do automatically.
Which is where the other bit of IBM’s research comes in. Making cyberbrains more like real human ones means better understanding how our brains work. So IBM has also been studying real working human brains (non-invasively!) through magnetic resonance imaging and some processing on its Blue Gene supercomputer. The idea is to try and gain a better understanding of how communications happen inside the brain.
And here’s the kicker: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was so impressed by the research, they funded more to the tune of $16 million, with the goal of producing a prototype cyberbrain chip about as smart as a mammal. Remember all those advanced robots we’ve shown you before? Yup. Imagine an IBM cyberbrain embedded in Boston Dynamics Big Dog, and then try and imagine what it would be capable of … and I don’t mean stuff like taking a robo-leak on the nearest battlefield tree.