First there was Deep Blue, then Watson, and now… SyNAPSE? International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) scientists revealed last week that they’d developed a nanofluidic circuit, which is a fancy term for a transistor which operates in ways that mimic the human brain. This is huge news on two fronts: it not only opens up new potential applications for artificial intelligence, it also offers the possibility of finally breaking free of Moore’s Law as transistors continue to approach the scale of individual atoms.
Let’s back up and explain some of these terms in more detail. SyNAPSE, a backronym of “Systems for Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics,” is actually a DARPA program that was initiated to develop brain-like computers. International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) has taken the lead on this project, but research teams from several top universities, as well as HRL Laboratories — a jointly-owned research arm of General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA) — have also contributed to the project. IBM introduced “cognitive computer chips” in late 2011 as part of the SyNAPSE program, but last week’s nanofluidic advancement hasn’t been officially mentioned in conjunction with that program. That doesn’t mean it won’t make an ideal technological adaptation to push SyNAPSE further forward.
The nanofluidic circuit was described by bothThe Atlantic Wire:
The new so-called nanofluidic circuit works a little bit like a network of streams. A charged fluid moves over the surface of the circuit changing its properties (e.g. flipping a switch “on” or “off”) with the positively and negatively charged atoms in the fluid. Like the synapses of the brain, the ions operate in three dimensions, a game changer in terms of efficiency and uncharted territory in terms of computing.
And by The New York Times‘ tech blog:
The advantage of the new method is that it is both nonvolatile — it requires only a small amount of electricity to change the materials from one state to another, and they then remain in that state — and is potentially reversible, meaning that it could be used to build a device like a transistor. …
“We could form or disrupt connections just in the same way a synaptic connection in the brain could be remade, or the strength of that connection could be adjusted,” [IBM Fellow] Dr. [Stuart] Parkin said.