Berlin : Scientists have developed a computer that mimics the brain's neural networks, and could overcome the speed and power consumption problems of conventional supercomputers. The custom-built computer named SpiNNaker produced results similar to that of the best brain-simulation supercomputer software currently used for neural-signalling research, The system may help advance our knowledge of neural processing in the brain, to include learning and disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease.
"SpiNNaker can support detailed biological models of the cortex - the outer layer of the brain that receives and processes information from the senses - delivering results very similar to those from an equivalent supercomputer software simulation," said Sacha van Albada, from the Julich Research Centre in Germany. "The ability to run large-scale detailed neural networks quickly and at low power consumption will advance robotics research and facilitate studies on learning and brain disorders," said Albada, lead author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
The human brain is extremely complex, comprising 100 billion interconnected brain cells. We understand how individual neurons and their components behave and communicate with each other and on the larger scale, which areas of the brain are used for sensory perception, action and cognition.
However, we know less about the translation of neural activity into behaviour, such as turning thought into muscle movement. Supercomputer software has helped by simulating the exchange of signals between neurons, but even the best software run on the fastest supercomputers to date can only simulate one per cent of the human brain.