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IBM SyNAPSE Chip: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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IBM has debuted a next-gen computer chip that’s designed to mimic the human brain. Are we one closer to true AI, or is this just another computer chip? Read on to learn everything you need to know about IBM’s SyNAPSE chip.


1. SyNAPSE Stands for ‘Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics’

SyNAPSE Stands for “Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics.” According to a report on CNN Money, the chip functions like a human brain when paired with other chips of the same caliber. The chip is able to sense, taste, feel, smell, and hear its surroundings.

Each chip is equivalent to the intelligence of one bee, with a chip containing over 4,000 cores, 1 million “neurons” and 256 million “synapses.” When the chips start working together, they can become quite powerful.


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2. SyNAPSE Uses Very Little Energy

The chip is only about the size of a postage stamp. Partially due to its small size, it requires very little energy. It draws about the same amount of energy as a typical in-the-ear hearing aid. This minimal energy requirement is important for researchers, as many chips will need to be used to create next-gen robots and “smart” devices.


3. SyNAPSE Got $53 million in Funding From DARPA

Learn more about IBM’s “Brain Guy,” Dharmendra Modha, in the video above.

Engadget reports that IBM got $53 million in funding for the SyNAPSE project directly from DARPA. The ultimate goal of the SyNAPSE project is simple: building a computer “brain” that can power intelligent robots. The final goal of the project (according to ArtificialBrains.com) will be the creation of a chip-based brain that has 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. Additionally, the final “brain” needs to take up less than two liters of space.


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4. SyNAPSE Is Advanced, Required a New Programming Language

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IBM created an entirely new programming language to work with SyNAPSE chips, as well as a foundation to program the chips. Engadget refers to SyNAPSE chips as “disruptive to the current computing landscape,” which is why a new language was needed.

“‘Architectures and programs are closely intertwined and a new architecture necessitates a new programming paradigm,’ said Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha, Principal Investigator and Senior Manager, IBM Research. ‘We are working to create a FORTRAN for synaptic computing chips. While complementing today’s computers, this will bring forth a fundamentally new technological capability in terms of programming and applying emerging learning systems.'”


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5. SyNAPSE Has Been Years in the Making

The video above predicts what the intelligent robots of the future might be like.

Mashable writes that the original SyNAPSE prototype debuted in 2011. Back then, the chip had a mere 256 “neurons,” compared to 1 million today. In a 2011 report from the New York Times, IBM’s Dharmendra Modha told reporters:

“We’re not trying to build a brain. We’re trying draw inspiration from the brain…We aren’t there yet, but before long these chips will be able to rewire themselves on the fly.”

The Times report added that the chips had many potential applications, including improved detection of tsunamis and hurricanes.


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