Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How Do You Build A Synthetic Brain?

Date:
February 12, 2009
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
Nanocarbon modeling may be the next step toward emulating human brain function. That's the focus of a "synthetic cortex" under development.

Professor Alice Parker, left, discusses the animation of a synaptic connector with graduate students Chih-Chieh Hsu, center, and Jonathan Joshi.
Credit: Diane Ainsworth

Nanocarbon modeling may be the next step toward emulating human brain function. That’s the focus of USC electrical engineering professor Alice Parker’s “synthetic cortex” study funded by the National Science Foundation.

Parker and co-principal investigator Chongwu Zhou, both of the USC Viterbi School’s Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering, have teamed up on the “BioRC (Biomimetic Real-Time Cortex) Project,” which has set out to create nanocarbon brain neurons that can talk to each other.

The research team includes USC Viterbi School electrical engineering graduate students Jonathan Joshi, Chih-Chieh Hsu, Adi Azar, Matthew Walker, Ko-Chung Tseng, Ben Raskob, Chuan Wang, Yoon Sik Cho, Changsoo Jeong and Jason Mahvash.

The team is studying the behavior of cortical neurons – what makes them fire and send signals through synaptic connectors to other neurons in the human cortex – as well as the neurons’ “plasticity,” or ability to learn and remember.

Each time a neuron fires, it sends an electro-chemical spark through thousands of other neurons at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. But with approximately 100 billion neurons in the human cortex and approximately 60 trillion synaptic connections, the brain is massively interconnected, Parker said. That makes the task of unraveling a neuron’s electrical circuitry quite complicated.

“The brain is kind of like a biochemical factory, operating in a sphere that you can’t stretch out on integrated circuits and circuit boards in order to emulate all of its electrical activity,” she said. “The connectivity is too great and too many delays are introduced. We had to turn to nanotechnology to build something three-dimensionally, so that eventually we’ll be able to emulate how the neurons fire and activate others along a specific path within that sphere.”

According to Joshi, who has engineered the circuit design for artificial synapses that learn, “This is a big departure from some previous synthetic brain projects, which attempted to emulate neural behavior with electrical signals using conventional multiprocessors.

“Nanocarbon modeling solves problems such as the sheer physical size in building a section of synthetic cortex, the cost of expensive electronics that have been required in the past to build these structures and then the cost of powering them, since the brain never shuts off.”

Until quite recently, the size and cost of available electronics made construction of complex brain-like structures totally impractical, Parker said.

The team already has designed and simulated the transistor circuits for a single synapse, said Hsu, a senior member of the team and Ph.D. student in electrical engineering. In addition, a complementary metal oxide semiconductor chip that will be used to validate the concepts is about to be fabricated. Now it’s time to connect the structure to another synapse and study neural interconnectivity. By the end of the semester, she hopes to have “several synthetic neurons talking to each other.”

Ultimately, the researchers hope to answer one question: Will science ever be able to construct an artificial brain of reasonable size and cost that exhibits almost real-time behavior?

“We really don’t know if we can yet, despite all of the press that you’ve seen claiming how close we are to that,” Parker said. “The human cortex is massively interconnected and the connections are always changing. That’s always been one of the biggest hurdles in trying to simulate neural functioning. But as technologies become smaller and less expensive, there is a possibility of constructing neural structures on the scale of the human brain.”

A lot is riding on it, she added. Autonomous vehicle navigation, identity determination, robotic manufacturing and medical diagnostics are engineering challenges that could benefit from technological solutions that involve artificial neural structures.

And in medicine, the stakes are even higher.

“Researchers have already built experimental cochlear implants that are able to restore some hearing in the deaf and new vision systems that can restore some sight to the blind, but what we’re working on now is what you’ll see 30 years in the future,” Parker said. “This is work that could revolutionize neural prosthetics, for one thing, and give us some pretty amazing biomimetic devices.”

The project also involves collaborators Kang Wang, Alex Khitun and Mary Eshaghian-Wilner at UCLA, Philip Wong at Stanford University and Jie Deng at IBM, as well as neuroscience faculty members at USC.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Southern California. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Southern California. "How Do You Build A Synthetic Brain?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211194151.htm>.
University of Southern California. (2009, February 12). How Do You Build A Synthetic Brain?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211194151.htm
University of Southern California. "How Do You Build A Synthetic Brain?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211194151.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

China's Ageing Millions Look Forward to Bleak Future

AFP (July 24, 2014) China's elderly population is expanding so quickly that children struggle to look after them, pushing them to do something unexpected in Chinese society- move their parents into a nursing home. Duration: 02:07 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile: iPhone Android Web
          Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins