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IBM researchers predict simulation of human brain by supercomputer in ten years

Researchers at IBM working on a project to simulate the internal wiring of the human brain have announced that the current simulation has surpassed the level of a cat's cortex, and now contains the equivalent of one billion neurons and ten trillion synapses.

The simulation is running on a supercomputer called Dawn Blue Gene/P which contains 147,456 processors and 144 terabytes of RAM. The IBM team has predicted that by 2019, a computer with one exaFLOPS of computing power and four Petabytes of RAM would be able to simulate the human brain.

The project has shown steady progress: in 2006 the researchers successfully modelled a mouse's brain, and in 2007 they replicated a rat's brain. Earlier this year they announced they'd reached the level of one per cent of the human cortex. The simulation models the physical connections in the brain, and isn't meant to try and "think" like we do, but IBM hopes that by watching how the vast array of connections in the simulation behave, they can learn more about how the brain works.

The researchers created an algorithm called Blue Matter that essentially maps the connections in the human brain, allowing the scientists to better understand how the brain stores and processes information. The idea is to give the simulation an input, and by watching how the simulation plays out they can gain understanding of how the brain of a living thing would work. The ultimate goal is to exploit nanotechnology and other breakthroughs to create a new breed of computer processors, called synaptronic processors, that think more like living things rather than according to the conventional Von Neumann model of computing that we use today.

The Dawn Blue Gene/P computer is rated at about 500 teraFLOPS, which translates to about 0.0005 exaFLOPS (a FLOPS is a Floating Point Operation Per Second, a standard measurement of a computer's processing power). For a human brain simulation, therefore, the researchers claim they'll need a computer that's 2,000 times faster with about 28 times the memory. Dawn Blue Gene/P is currently the 11th fastest computer in the world according to Top500, and the top supercomputer is four times as fast.

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