While everyone in the IT racket is trying to figure out how many Intel Xeon and Atom chips can be replaced by ARM processors, Steve Furber, the main designer of the 32-bit ARM RISC processor at Acorn in the 1980s and now the ICL professor of engineering at the University of Manchester, is asking a different question, and that is: how many neurons can an ARM chip simulate?
via ARM daddy simulates human brain with million-chip super • The Register.
The phrase reminds me a bit of an old TV commercial that would air during the Saturday cartoons. Tootsie Roll brand lollipops had a center made out of Tootsie Roll. The challenge was to determine how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop? The answer was, “The World May Never Know”. And so it goes for the simulations large scale and otherwise of the human brain.
I remember also reading Stewart Brand’s 1985 book about the MIT Media Lab and their installation of a brand new multi-processor super computer called The Connection Machine (TCM). Danny Hillis was the designer and author of the original concept of stringing together a series of small one bit computer cores to act like ‘neurons’ in a larger array of cpus. The scale was designed to top out at around 65,535 (2^16). At the time MIT Media Lab only had the machine filled up 1/4 of the way but was attempting to do useful work with it at that size. Hillis spun out of MIT to create a startup company called Thinking Machines (to reflect the neuron style architecture he had pursued as a grad student). In fact all of Hillis’s ideas stemmed from his research that led up to the original Connection Machine Mark. 1.
Spring forward to today and the sudden appearance of massively parallel, low-power servers like Calxeda using ARM chips, Qanta Sq-2 using Tilera chips (also an MIT spin out). Similarly the Seamicro SM-10000×64 which uses Intel Atom chips in large scale, large quantity. And Seamicro is making sales TODAY. It almost seems like a stereotypical case of an idea being way ahead of its time. So recognize the opportunity because now the person directly responsible for designing the ARM chip is attacking that same problem Danny Hillis was all those years ago.
Personally I would like to see Hillis join in some way with this program not as Principal Investigator but may a background consultant. Nothing wrong with a few more eyes on the preliminary designs. Especially with Hillis’s background in programming those old mega-scale computers. That is the true black art of trying to do a brain simulator on this scale. Steve Furber might just be able to make lightning strike twice (once for Acorn/ARM cpus and once more for simulating the brain in silicon).
- Simulating the human brain’s networks (theswarm.wordpress.com)
- SeaMicro Crams 768 Atom Cores in New Cloud Server (pcworld.com)
- ARM says its SpiNNaker chip simulates 1,000 brain neurons (electronista.com)
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