Neuromorphic Supercomputer With 1 Million Cores Mimics the Human Brain

SpiNNaker (Image credit: University of Manchester)

A European neuromorphic supercomputer project that aims to simulate an artificial brain using what's called a Spiking Neural Network Architecture (SpiNNaker) went live on November 2, courtesy of the University of Manchester

Mimicking the Human Brain

The SpiNNaker machine has 1,000,000 neuromorphic processors that are inspired by the human brain neurons. Having 1,000,000 cores was necessary to simulate real-time brain modeling. Each of those processors is capable of completing more than 200,000,000 actions per second and has 100,000,000 transistors.

The neuromorphic supercomputer is supposed to model a biological brain more than any other computer on the planet. A biological neuron is a basic brain cell that communicates by emitting “spikes” of pure electro-chemical energy, according to the announcement. The neuromorphic computer uses large scale systems containing electronic circuits to mimic these same spikes in a machine.

Unlike a regular computer that sends massive amounts of information via a standard network, the SpiNNaker mimics the massively parallel architecture of the brain and sends billions of small amounts of information simultaneously to thousands of different destinations.

Use Cases for the SpiNNaker Machine

The SpiNNaker has 1,000,000 cores, which is an impressive feat on its own; however, that is still far less than what would be required to properly simulate an entire human brain. For comparison, a mouse brain has 100,000,000 neurons, and a human brain has 100,000,000,000 neurons. Therefore, the supercomputer could  need 100,000 times more cores than it currently has to achieve parity with a biological human brain However, it's possible we'll learn that we don’t need 1:1 parity with a human brain to simulate it accurately, or that we could use fewer physical cores with more “virtual cores” (aka threads) that can act as the neurons.

Despite having so much fewer cores compared to even a mouse’s neurons, scientists still believe that the 1,000,000 core supercomputer could prove useful for modeling certain parts of the brain in real-time, as well as for other tasks.

Professor Steve Furber from the Computer Engineering division at the University of Manchester, said:

“Neuroscientists can now use SpiNNaker to help unlock some of the secrets of how the human brain works by running unprecedentedly large scale simulations. It also works as real-time neural simulator that allows roboticists to design large scale neural networks into mobile robots so they can walk, talk and move with flexibility and low power.”

History and Future of the SpiNNaker Project

The SpiNNaker project was 20 years in conception and 12 years in construction at the University of Manchester’s School of Computer Science. They started building the machine in 2006. It initially received £15 million in funding from UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

In 2013, the project was dubbed the Human Brain Project (HBP), and the European Union and over 100 academic institutions promised to give it €1 billion in funding. In 2015, neuroscientists criticized HBP leadership for wanting to cut cognitive neuroscience from the initiative and sent a letter to the European Commission in protest. The HBP executive team was disbanded and replaced by a 22-member board of directors from multiple institutions the same year.

Earlier this year, Chris Ebell, the new director of the initiative, quit due to disagreements with the project’s lead institution.

Nevertheless, the project has gone live, and its initial creators hope that they’ll eventually be able to upgrade it from 1,000,000 cores to 1,000,000,000 cores in the near future in an effort to get it closer to the number of neurons that a human brain has.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • spiketheaardvark
    All of that to model something that uses less energy than most laptops.
  • dudmont
    21463700 said:
    All of that to model something that uses less energy than most laptops.

    Ain't life pretty crazy amazing?:wahoo:
  • alexcle
    1 step closer to Skynet... :-)
  • jaber2
    A roomful of computers to mimic a human mind, let me know when its scales down to a wrist watch size, then I would be worried
  • racksmith101
    With Intel's recent hype-train they're probably going to announce it next week.
  • stdragon
    The only brain closer to that of Human's in terms of size ratio is that of a dolphin. They have bigger brains, but also a larger body. Yet, I'm supposed to take it on "faith" that these hyper complex and fast computer can mimic the intelligence of a human? No, in fact we relate far more closely to that of said swimming mammal.
  • AnimeMania
    1,000,000 cores seems like it should be a good start since there are so many things that the brain does that they don't have to mimic, like the 5 senses, regulating the body's functions, storing long term memories, etc. this can provide a good simulation of how the brain might perform a single task.
  • USAFRet
    21464374 said:
    A roomful of computers to mimic a human mind, let me know when its scales down to a wrist watch size, then I would be worried

    We went to the Moon with less computer power than what lives in your phone, so....
  • shadeablaze
    If the computer has as much processing power as the brain - then you must remember that they don't forget or sleep.
  • Mpablo87
    The Supercomputer is a really progressive thing today, but it is also a real danger!!!