Advances in computer technology have become the norm. And as
more and more data is collected from a myriad of sources,
companies have come to realize the value of using all that
information in a multitude of ways.
collects reams of data, and has mastered the art of using
it, to better target its ads. And much of the tech sector is
racing to both collect and use data to interconnect all facets of
our lives -- cars, homes, and the workplace, to name but a few --
to implement the Internet of Things.
But all of these "smart" technologies that industry leaders
are working to bring to the masses require huge amounts of
computing power -- power that just a few years ago would have
seemed unlikely, if not impossible. Driving much of this
technological innovation are the capabilities of cognitive
computing. In other words,computers such as IBM's Watson that are
able to learn. But even IBM's supercomputer may take a back seat
to what Big Blue calls the world's first, "neurosynaptic computer
chip." If "neurosynaptic" sounds eerily similar to your own
brain's neurons and synapses, this is intentional.
The future of supercomputing?
You might recall that Watson is the now-infamous computer from
IBM that beat a couple of longtime
contestants. Watson's capabilities in the world of big data --
the collection, analysis, and use of an unprecedented amount of
information -- is seemingly limitless. And big data offers
tremendous potential for IBM and others, including longtime
Ironically, IBM's groundbreaking new human brain-like chip was
introduced shortly after word spread that the company was trying
desperately to unload its money-losing chip business. Talks to
sell the chip unit fell apart, but you can be sure IBM's new
SyNAPSE chip wouldn't have been part of the deal.
IBM's "brain inspired" chip boasts an unheard-of 1 million
programmable neurons, 256 million synapses, and 5.4 billion
transistors, all in a chip the size of a postage stamp. Nearly as
impressive as all that computing power is how little energy
SyNAPSE requires: a mere sliver compared to common chips.
Traditional chips with a similar number of transistors as
SyNAPSE consume as much as 10,000 times more wattage, yet IBM's
product can function much like
's famed "neural network," which required 1,000 computers, each
with 16 processors.
SyNAPSE isn't going to win any number-crunching contests
compared to traditional processors, but that's not what it's
intended for. Specifically, SyNAPSE and its human brain-inspired
functionality are ideally suited for processing sensory data like
sights and sounds.
Alone, for now
SyNAPSE uses an utterly unique development process compared to
"normal" chips, and is able to combine the memory and processing
functions using all those neurons and synapses, just as with the
human brain. As one supercomputing industry pundit said, SyNAPSE
"may be a historic development." A computer chip that functions
much like the human brain? "Historic" seems apropos.
SyNAPSE puts IBM in a league of its own in terms of how, and
what, the new chip is able to accomplish. However, the more
broad-based cognitive computing -- something SyNAPSE could take
to a whole new level in the not-too-distant future -- is being
employed by Microsoft and other big data specialists.
Microsoft recently upgraded its cloud platform, Azure, to
include cognitive computing functionality, directly competing
with IBM. Just as with IBM, Microsoft envisions combining the
possibilities of big data with the cloud: both have the potential
of becoming huge markets. Azure, like Watson and other cognitive
computing systems, uses algorithms to improve its results with
each iteration, actually "learning" with each step in the
Final Foolish thoughts
A computer that learns, such as Microsoft's Azure and IBM's
Watson, may seem like something from the distant future. But add
SyNAPSE into the equation and suddenly a world like
doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. How and when IBM can use its
new human brain-like chip remains to be seen, but there's no
denying it's a significant step forward in the world of
computing. Who knows: Ten or 15 years from now, when your
computer is both answering and asking you increasingly
intelligent questions, you can look back to IBM's introduction of
SyNAPSE as the catalyst for a whole new computing world.
Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to
guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the
public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some
early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the
the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million
of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small
company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock
price has nearly unlimited room to run for early-in-the-know
investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart
IBM's New Computer Chip Thinks Like a Human
originally appeared on Fool.com.
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