IBM Reveals Cognitive Computing Chips

By Michael Feldman

August 18, 2011

The company that brought Jeopardy cyber-champ Watson to the world has come up with some even brainier technology. IBM has unveiled prototypes of microprocessors that are being dubbed “cognitive computing chips.” According to IBM, the hardware is made up of neural circuits and are designed to mimic the brain’s ability to perceive sensory input, understand it, and take action based on that understanding.

To emulate human-level thinking, Watson used clever software on conventional hardware, which could be described as sort of a brute force approach. In contrast, these new chips are designed to behave fundamentally like our own brains, being able process sensory input in a vastly parallel fashion, create correlations, learn from experience, and adapt its processing dynamically.

Although the work can be categorized as artificial intelligence, it’s actually more general than traditional AI, which tends to be focus on individual capabilities, like pattern recognition. In this latest effort, IBM is attempting to integrate all aspects of thinking, including perception and action, as well as cognition. The goal is to build a truly intelligent machine that is able to perform human-level analytics in real time, and with the power and size efficiencies of a biological brain.

The work is being done with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and in conjunction with a number of US universities. The project, which the agency has titled Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, or SyNAPSE, kicked off in 2008, when DARPA anted up $4.9 million to bootstrap the work. In the second phase of the project, they chipped in $16.1 million more to IBM and its university partners. Now DARPA is prepared to kick in an additional $21 million for the third phase.

The defense agency’s interest in such technology is understandable, given the DoD’s increasing reliance on drone aircraft and other types of unmanned vehicles, not to mention its need to analyze the tremendous amounts of intelligence data. In short, the defense department would like nothing better than to replace its legions of soldiers and analysts with computer chips.

IBM, of course, is aiming at a much larger market. The idea is that system could be hooked up to vast sensor networks, monitoring the environment, cars, homes, even people. Such a product would span every industry and provide the underpinnings of IBM’s so-called Smarter Planet, although in this case it’s more like Smarter Planet 2.0.

The hardware design is certainly futuristic. The cognitive computing prototype chips are made up of a “neurosynaptic core,” which encompass of computational circuits (the neurons), memory (the synapses), and communication lines (the axons). Although this is accomplished with standard digital circuitry, the architecture is unique. From the IBM press release:

IBM’s overarching cognitive computing architecture is an on-chip network of light-weight cores, creating a single integrated system of hardware and software. This architecture represents a critical shift away from traditional von Neumann computing to a potentially more power-efficient architecture that has no set programming, integrates memory with processor, and mimics the brain’s event-driven, distributed and parallel processing.

Getting compute, memory and communication integrated together is central to the architecture’s brainy behavior. According to Dharmendra Modha, IBM’s lead on the project, the tight integration is key to getting the circuitry to behave like biological neurons and synapses, and do so within a very organic power budget. The power consumption of the human brain is estimated to be between 10 and 100 watts.

To date, IBM has developed two chip prototypes, both of which have been implemented on 45 nm SOI CMOS at the company’s fab in Fishkill, New York. Each design contains 256 neurons, one with 256K programmable synapses and the other with 64K learning synapses. The IBM researchers claim to have used them to demonstrate simple applications like navigation, machine vision, pattern recognition, associative memory and classification.

IBM has not revealed a timeline for any commercial products. The company’s goal is to eventually construct a system with ten billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses, while consuming a single kilowatt of power. Using future nanoelectronics, the researchers estimate such a machine will take up less than two liters of volume.

The chip prototypes will be described in more detail at the IEEE Custom Integrated Circuits Conference on September 20 in San Jose, California.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Topological Quantum Superconductor Progress Reported

February 20, 2018

Overcoming sensitivity to decoherence is a persistent stumbling block in efforts to build effective quantum computers. Now, a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) report progress in devisi Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This