With a new architecture that draws inspiration from the human brain, IBM has unveiled what it is calling a breakthrough 'software
ecosystem' designed for programming silicon chips. Big Blue is betting its SyNAPSE technology could pave the way for a new generation of intelligent sensor networks that mimic the brain’s perception, cognition, and action abilities.
To be sure, IBM’s new programming model is a dramatic departure from traditional software and it's a very big deal in many ways.
The SyNAPSE name is short for Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, and IBM reports that the project to develop it has thus far received cumulative funding of approximately $53 million.
A Whole New Approach
Indeed, Big Blue says it is breaking the mold of sequential operation that underlies today's whole generation of computers which are virtually all based on 'von Neumann' technology.
The von Neumann paradigm is named for computer pioneer and mathematician John von Neumann, and refers to a design architecture in which chips store an instruction set and a data set. In typical von Neumann style processing, the chip fetches the instructions to work with the data.
IBM's new design paradigm takes a completely different approach and is tailored, IBM says, for a new, future class of "distributed, highly interconnected, asynchronous, parallel, large-scale cognitive computing architectures."
In basic terms, it's just a far more advanced type of processing that will be able to handle advanced tasks quickly. The additional speed and power are becoming increasingly important for processing big data and working in real-time with distributed systems and the Internet of Things.
Computer architectures and software programs are "closely intertwined and a new architecture necessitates a new programming paradigm,” explained Dharmendra S. Modha, Principal Investigator and Senior Manager at IBM Research. “We are working to create a FORTRAN [referring to the pioneering programming language that IBM first introduced in the late 1950s] for synaptic computing chips."
IBM's new programming language will complement today’s computers, Modha said, and also enable "new technological capability in terms of programming and applying emerging learning systems."
Just Like Our Brains?
To facilitate its new programming ecosystem, IBM has developed a number of breakthroughs that it says will aid developers working from the design stage all the way through production, debugging, and deployment.
The first element of the new system is a powerful software simulator. IBM describes it as a "multi-threaded, massively parallel and highly scalable functional software simulator" that is designed to simulate a "cognitive computing architecture comprising a network of neurosynaptic cores." That's a mouthful indeed, but in the most basic terms, we're talking about a software simulator designed to operate like the human brain. (continued...)
Posted: 2014-09-06 @ 10:35am PT
Let's wait and see if this neural-based ecosystem can actually do something before judging how disruptive the technology will be.