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A Big Step Forward in Artificial Intelligence Research


IBM's brain-inspired architecture consists of a network of neurosynaptic cores.

IBM's brain-inspired architecture consists of a network of neurosynaptic cores.

The American computer company IBM says it has developed a microprocessor -- a computer chip -- that works much like the human brain.

IBM calls the chip TrueNorth. It is the size of a postage stamp. The chip has 5.4 billion tiny parts that work like the human brain’s neurons and synapses. Neurons and synapses are the cells and electric forces that carry messages to and from the brain.

TrueNorth has 1 million neurons and 256 million synapses. The human brain has 100 billion neurons and up to 150 trillion synapses. IBM says it can program the new chip to understand difficult problems and then solve them as humans would.

The company says the TrueNorth chip could be used as a brain for search-and-rescue robots. It can also be used for controlling new kinds of wheelchairs or for recording conversations involving several people and then making a printed record of those conversations.

TrueNorth is still being tested. But IBM says it could be available for public use in two to three years.

The chip is just one example of machines becoming more and more like humans. This field of study is called artificial intelligence, or AI. Some experts believe computers will someday become more intelligent than humans.

Researchers are trying to develop ways for humans and computers to work together more closely. Someday, humans and computers may be joined. The combination of a human and a computer is called a cyborg.

Jonathan Mugan has written a book about the relationship between humans and computers, called “The Curiosity Cycle.” He told VOA by email that it is time to prepare for a future where computers have more control over our lives.

In his words, “machines are technology. And technology expands as human knowledge expands. By contrast, human intelligence developed through evolution, which is a much slower process.”

Mr. Mugan believes that smarter computers are good for humans. He says intelligent machines can help humans solve many of our most difficult problems.

But he says “once computers become broadly smarter than humans, it’s hard to predict what will happen.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

This story was reported by VOA reporters George Putic and Aida Akl in Washington. It was adapted into Special English by Jonathan Evans, who also narrated the report. It was edited by Christopher Cruise.

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Words in the News

artificial intelligence (A.I.) - n. an area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like that have human intelligence

cyborg - n. a person whose body contains mechanical or electrical devices and whose abilities are greater than normal humans

intelligence – n. the ability to think or learn

neuron - n. a cell that carries messages between the brain and other parts of the body

synapse - the place where a signal passes from one nerve cell to another

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