Why this is better
The benefit of processing information in this fashion, rather than like traditional computers, is twofold: IBM's TrueNorth can process much more difficult tasks and it uses less energy.
An MIT Technology Reviewarticle published earlier this year mentioned Qualcomm 's neuromorphic chips, which act in a similar way to TrueNorth. The article said chips like this "encode and transmit data in a way that mimics the electrical spikes generated in the brain as it responds to sensory information." These chips can learn how to recognize an object, like a dog, by seeing one first and then identifying other dogs after that. This comes instead of needing to be programmed and told exactly what a dog is.
The other advantage with TrueNorth is its minimal power consumption. Current computer chips run all the time, whether processing information or not. But IBM's new chip has cores that only run when processing information, then shut off when not being used. The company says TrueNorth uses the same amount of battery power as a hearing aid -- which is just a fraction of the power consumed by today's computer chips.
A few skeptics
Not everyone is completely convinced of TrueNorth's capabilities. Yann LeCun, Facebook 's director of artificial intelligence research, toldThe New York Times , "The chip appears to be very limited in many ways, and the performance is not what it seems." He said testing that showed the chip detects pedestrians and cars "won't impress anyone in computer vision or machine learning." He also followed up some of this thoughts in a Facebook post .
Nayaran Srinivasa, a researcher at HRL Laboratories who is working on a similar chip, said in a Wiredarticle , "It's definitely an achievement to make a chip of that scale ... but I think the claims are a bit stretched because there is no learning happening on chip."
But if there's one group that believes in the TrueNorth's potential, it's the U.S. government. The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has poured $53 million into the TrueNorth project, run by Cornell University researchers and IBM, since 2008.
IBM's chip is closer to production readiness than others like it, but it's likely years away from any commercial application. The company says TrueNorth could be used for public safety, health monitoring, transportation, and even vision assistance for the blind.
While IBM says TrueNorth processes information like a human brain, and in some respects it does, it appears the chip may have a large learning curve. As it continues to be developed and undergoes more testing, TrueNorth's real-world capabilities should become more apparent.
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The article Does This New Computer Chip from IBM Really Function Like a Brain? originally appeared on Fool.com.
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