At November’s supercomputing conference in Portland, Oregon, IBM announced that its researchers working with a team from Stanford University had succeeded in developing an accurate simulation of human brain function. The simulation will be capable of emulating sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition.
This algorithm simulating a living neural network, called BlueMatter (spelled as one word like everything else in computerese these days) is an important milestone in IBM’s mission to build a cognitive computing chip because it begins to advance large-scale simulation of a cortical neural network and it synthesizes neurological data. BlueMatter is built with Blue Gene (two words for this pun in the singular) architecture, which, in combination with specialized MRI images, allowed the team to create a wiring diagram of the human brain. This map of the brain is, according to IBM’s press release
"crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information."
To be more accurate, what BlueMatter has thus far demonstrated is the potential to achieve neural network technology that operates on the scale of complexity of the human brain. The algorithm’s current simulation approximates the cortical system of a cat. Hence, the title of the paper announcing IBM’s accomplishments: "The Cat Is Out of the Bag." Even so, this is an operations research accomplishment that dwarfs such mundane analytical tasks as option valuation, value-at-risk, or reserve estimation.
One of the goals of the company’s cognitive computing program is to create a chip that operates with the energy efficiency of the human brain (20 watts). But in order to emulate the brain activity of a cat, the research team had to bring out one of the largest supercomputers in the world, the IBM Dawn Blue Gene/P–which comprises about 150 thousand processors and contains 144 terrabytes of main memory.
This cat came out of a pretty big bag.