Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Cat brain: A step toward the electronic equivalent

Date:
April 15, 2010
Source:
University of Michigan
Summary:
A cat can recognize a face faster and more efficiently than a supercomputer. That's one reason a feline brain is the model for a biologically-inspired computer project. A computer engineer has taken a step toward developing this revolutionary type of machine that could be capable of learning and recognizing, as well as making more complex decisions and performing more tasks simultaneously than conventional computers can.

A cat can recognize a face faster and more efficiently than a supercomputer. That's one reason a feline brain is the model for a biologically-inspired computer project involving the University of Michigan.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jonny Kristoffersson

A cat can recognize a face faster and more efficiently than a supercomputer. That's one reason a feline brain is the model for a biologically-inspired computer project involving the University of Michigan.

U-M computer engineer Wei Lu has taken a step toward developing this revolutionary type of machine that could be capable of learning and recognizing, as well as making more complex decisions and performing more tasks simultaneously than conventional computers can.

Lu previously built a "memristor," a device that replaces a traditional transistor and acts like a biological synapse, remembering past voltages it was subjected to. Now, he has demonstrated that this memristor can connect conventional circuits and support a process that is the basis for memory and learning in biological systems.

A paper on the research is published online in Nano Letters and is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming April edition of the journal.

"We are building a computer in the same way that nature builds a brain," said Lu, an assistant professor in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. "The idea is to use a completely different paradigm compared to conventional computers. The cat brain sets a realistic goal because it is much simpler than a human brain but still extremely difficult to replicate in complexity and efficiency."

Today's most sophisticated supercomputer can accomplish certain tasks with the brain functionality of a cat, but it's a massive machine with more than 140,000 central processing units and a dedicated power supply. And it still performs 83 times slower than a cat's brain, Lu wrote in his paper.

In a mammal's brain, neurons are connected to each other by synapses, which act as reconfigurable switches that can form pathways linking thousands of neurons. Most importantly, synapses remember these pathways based on the strength and timing of electrical signals generated by the neurons.

In a conventional computer, logic and memory functions are located at different parts of the circuit and each computing unit is only connected to a handful of neighbors in the circuit. As a result, conventional computers execute code in a linear fashion, line by line, Lu said. They are excellent at performing relatively simple tasks with limited variables.

But a brain can perform many operations simultaneously, or in parallel. That's how we can recognize a face in an instant, but even a supercomputer would take much, much longer and consume much more energy in doing so.

So far, Lu has connected two electronic circuits with one memristor. He has demonstrated that this system is capable of a memory and learning process called "spike timing dependent plasticity." This type of plasticity refers to the ability of connections between neurons to become stronger based on when they are stimulated in relation to each other. Spike timing dependent plasticity is thought to be the basis for memory and learning in mammalian brains.

"We show that we can use voltage timing to gradually increase or decrease the electrical conductance in this memristor-based system. In our brains, similar changes in synapse conductance essentially give rise to long term memory," Lu said.

The next step is to build a larger system, Lu said. His goal is achieve the sophistication of a supercomputer in a machine the size of a two-liter beverage container. That could be several years away.

Lu said an electronic analog of a cat brain would be able to think intelligently at the cat level. For example, if the task were to find the shortest route from the front door to the sofa in a house full of furniture, and the computer knows only the shape of the sofa, a conventional machine could accomplish this. But if you moved the sofa, it wouldn't realize the adjustment and find a new path. That's what engineers hope the cat brain computer would be capable of. The project's major funder, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, isn't interested in sofas. But this illustrates the type of learning the machine is being designed for.

The research is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation. The work was performed in the U-M Lurie Nanofabrication Facility.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Jo et al. Nanoscale Memristor Device as Synapse in Neuromorphic Systems. Nano Letters, 2010; 10 (4): 1297 DOI: 10.1021/nl904092h

Cite This Page:

University of Michigan. "Cat brain: A step toward the electronic equivalent." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100414184218.htm>.
University of Michigan. (2010, April 15). Cat brain: A step toward the electronic equivalent. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100414184218.htm
University of Michigan. "Cat brain: A step toward the electronic equivalent." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100414184218.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) MIT researchers developed a light-based sensor that gives robots 100 times the sensitivity of a human finger, allowing for "unprecedented dexterity." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Oculus Reveals New Virtual Reality Headset Prototype

Oculus Reveals New Virtual Reality Headset Prototype

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) Oculus announced a new virtual reality headset prototype Saturday, saying the product is close to being ready for consumers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) One security researcher says despite Apple's efforts to increase security in iOS 8, it's still vulnerable to law enforcement data-transfer techniques. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) Google's local encryption will make it harder for law enforcement or malicious actors to access the contents of devices running Android L. Video provided by Newsy
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