Million ARM CPU cluster; SpiNNaker neural net simulates brain
OTOH: brain drain remains ARMless, it appears
Published 15:45, 08 July 11
Researchers hope to assemble a million ARM cores in a doughnut shape, in order to simulate a brain. The SpiNNaker Project -- Spiking Neural Network architecture is the brainchild of Steve Furber -- the main designer of Acorn's ARM processor in the '80s, now professor of engineering at the University of Manchester -- and Andrew Brown of the University of Southampton.
- On the one hand, what an impressive engineering and research challenge.
- On The Other Hand, even with a million processors, it'll still only simulate 1% of a human brain.
Plus, today's skateboarding duck: Would you like an invitation to Google Plus?..
Timothy Prickett-Morgan reports:
...[A]n ARM core can simulate the activities of around 1,000 spiking neurons. And the SpiNNaker project is going to attempt to [interconnect] 1 million processors to simulate the activities of around 1 billion neurons. ... [T]he human brain has...80 to 90 billion neurons.
As Furber and Brown explain in their paper (PDF)...they hope that by creating a silicon analog, they can simulate a more sophisticated neural network (including the spiking behavior that gets neurons to [do] the data storage and data processing)...and get a better sense of how the brain really works.
Figuring out how the brain works is tough, and the processor and communication network design...is easy by comparison.
Gareth Halfacree adds:
Those who missed the home computing revolution of the eighties might not be familiar with Furber's work. ... [W]hile working at Acorn...Furber worked with engineer Sophie Wilson on developing the ARM architecture...which is almost certainly inside your smartphone as you read this.
Unlike such creations as the Acorn Electron and the RiscPC, however, Furber's latest project is a bit more ambitious. ... It's a task which requires high-speed communication...meaning that traditional cluster computing models are simply not up to the task. ... Furber - along with Andrew Brown...suggests an innovative system architecture...which looks more like a cyclotron than a traditional computer mesh.
Jack Clark maps it out:
...[R]esearchers are testing the system with a card containing four ARM processors, giving 72 cores in total; they then hope to...build a...system of 1,000 cores. By the end of the year [they'll have] 10,000 cores and anticipate achieving a million cores by the end of 2012. ... Because any processor can be turned into any particular neuron...so while it can only simulate around one percent of the human brain, it can...simulate different parts for other experiments.
The project has been funded by a £5m grant from the EPSRC, of which Manchester received £2.5m, with the rest going to...Southampton, Cambridge and Sheffield. ... Manchester has received some further small grants for the project, and an earlier grant of £750,000.
And TGIF, thinks Matthew Finnegan, apparently:
A similar experiment was once attempted with a load of old Centrino chips found at the back of our stationary cupboard, though so far we haven't even managed to replicate...a particularly slow slug.
The chips, designed in Machester and built in Taiwan, each contain 18 ARM processors...[and] are able to provide the computing power of a personal computer in a fraction of the space, using just one watt of power.
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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. His writing has previously won American Society of Business Publication Editors and Jesse H. Neal awards. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.