Mimicking the Brain with Neuromorphic Chips

Intel this week is demonstrating at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a new device called a “neuromorphic chip,” which mimics in a simplified way the functioning of neurons and synapses in the brain. 

The best AI algorithms already use brain-like programs called simulated neural networks, which rely on parallel processing to recognize patterns in data—including objects in images and words in speech.

Neuromorphic chips take this idea further by etching the workings of neural networks into silicon. They are less flexible and powerful than the best general-purpose chips, but being specialized to their task makes them very energy efficient, and thus ideal for mobile devices, vehicles, and industrial equipment.

Codenamed Loihi, Intel’s new chip mimics how the brain functions by learning to operate based on various modes of feedback from the environment. Using the data to learn and make inferences, Loihi gets smarter over time and does not need to be trained in the traditional way.

“It takes a novel approach to computing via asynchronous spiking,” writes Michael Mayberry is corporate vice president and managing director of Intel Labs at Intel Corporation. “The brain’s neural networks relay information with pulses or spikes, modulate the synaptic strengths or weight of the interconnections based on timing of these spikes, and store these changes locally at the interconnections. Intelligent behaviors emerge from the cooperative and competitive interactions between multiple regions within the brain’s neural networks and its environment.”