An IBM project to build a cognitive computer that emulates how the human brain works has produced its first part in the postage stamp-sized 'TrueNorth' chip, which boasts a million programmable neurons and only uses a tiny 70 milliWatts of electricity.
The new chip is the result of a United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded project that started six years ago.
IBM said the chip breaks away from the traditional von Neuman architecture that has dominated computing until now, and works in parallel with over 400 million bits of local, on-chip memory to store synapses and neuron parameters.
TrueNorth chips can be tiled seamlessly to build larger systems. As of today, IBM said it has built a board with 16 million neurons and four billion synapses, and Big Blue researchers are setting their sights on an even larger system, with 4096 chips in a single rack.
This would provide four billion neurons and a trillion synapses, with a power draw of 4kWatt.
In comparison, human brains are estimated to have hundred billion neurons and a hundred trillion synapses, with a power consumption of just 20 Watts.
IBM has long worked on developing artificial intelligence and built the world's first cortical simulation in 1956, with 512 neurons.
It has come along since the SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) project delivered two working neurosynaptic core prototypes in 2011 that featured 256 programmable neurons.
One core had 262,144 programmable synapses and the other 65,536 learning synapses.
Today's second generation chip is substantially more advanced with a million programmable neurons and 256 million synapses, as well as 4096 neurosynaptic cores.
The long-term goal for IBM is to build a neurosynaptic system with ten billion neurons and one hundred trillion synapses, which fits into a container of less than two litres, and draws no more than one kilowatt of power.
IBM said the technology can be used many areas, both reseach and industry, such as public safety, improving vision for blind, home health monitoring and transportation.