By now we’ve become accustomed to the marvels of neural network technology and, in fact, inured to the advances it brought in statistical analysis with its computational simulations of nerve cells. Its many everyday applications–especially in online retailing–seem kind of ho-hum, and we’d be put out if for some reason they weren’t in use. Wasn’t it only four or five short years ago that neural nets themselves were big news?
Last week there was more big news about neural networks: a French research team’s announcement of an "organic" transistor that mimics a brain’s synapse. Neural network computing is based on computational stand-ins for biological neurons, and linking these neurons with electronic synapses currently requires at least seven transistors. One new "organic" transistor can take the place of those.
The key here is nano. Tiny. Tinier than tiny. The new transistors are made of nanoparticles of gold and pentacene on a plastic substrate. The resulting connector is called a nanoparticle organic memory field-effect transistor: a NOMFET.
Not only will the NOMFETs accelerate the performance of neural network circuits, but because the human brain uses 10 to the fourth times as many synapses as neurons, the space saving NOMFETs will help make possible a generation of computers inspired by the human brain.
The rise of the NOMFET may also make possible another kind of advance, one that I find a little scary to contemplate. Because its built on plastic, the NOMFET could potentially be used to link a computer with living tissue. Get back, Frankenstein.