LONDON – Up to a million ARM processor cores are going to be linked together to simulate the workings of the human brain in a research project in the U.K. Chips, designed at Manchester University and manufactured in Taiwan, form the building blocks for a massively parallel computer called SpiNNaker (Spiking Neural Network architecture). The specialized chips, based on an old ARM instruction set architecture, were delivered to the university last month where they have subsequently passed functionality tests.
SpiNNaker is a joint project between the universities of Manchester, Southampton, Cambridge and Sheffield and has been funded with a £5 million (about $8 million) government grant. Professor Steve Furber of the University of Manchester has been studying brain function and architecture for several years, but is also well known as one of the co-designers of the Acorn RISC Machine, a microprocessor that is the forerunner of today's ARM processor cores.
"We have small simulations running now, and will be scaling up over the next 18 months," said Professor Furber.
There are about 100 billion neurons with 1,000 trillion connections in the human brain. Even a machine with one million of the specialized ARM processor cores developed at Manchester would only allow modeling of about 1 percent of the human brain, the researchers said.
Neurons in the brain transmit information as analog electrical spikes. In the SpiNNaker machine these will be modeled as packets of descriptive data. The neuronal processing of these spikes is then run as models or virtual neurons running on the ARM processors. The architecture and use of packetized digital data means that SpiNNaker can transmit spikes as quickly as the brain with many fewer physical connections.
An original test chip was designed by Professor Furber's team in 2009 but the latest implementation includes 18 ARM processors per silicon die which come packaged with a memory die and have a power budget of about one watt. The chip has been manufactured by UMC (Hsinchu, Taiwan) in 130-nm CMOS. It has a complexity of about 100 million transistors although this is mainly in 55 32-kbyte SRAM blocks distributed across the die, Professor Furber said.
The accompanying memory die is a 1-Gbit DDR SDRAM from Micron Technology Inc. (Boise, Idaho) that operates at up to 166-MHz. These were sourced as known good die and then had packaged with the SpiNNaker ARM die in a 300-BGA package, Professor Furber said.
"We don't know how the brain works as an information-processing system, and we do need to find out. We hope that our machine will enable significant progress towards achieving this understanding," said Professor Furber, in a statement.
ARM has been supporting the SpiNNaker project since it was approached in 2005 by providing its processor and physical IP to the team.
That seems more like unprovable pseudo-science at this stage of mankind's knowledge. Where's the hard data backing up these claims of the soul's existence and unlimited "capacity"? It certainly may well exist, but until it can be detected, measured and it's properties well understood, it can't be used in the context of being the driving force behind the brain's capabilities. One must use hard, empirical data to back up one's claims - not speculation bordering on fantasy, when proving/disproving a scientific theory.
The SpiNNaker team is forgetting one important things about the human brain. The Soul...
The core of the brain is the human Soul. Although, the brain has limited memory capacity, the soul has unlimited capacity. Man would never be able to understand the complexities of the human brain and all its functions, unless man humbles himself before the only ONE who truly knows the brain in and out, because HE invented it. GOD.
There used to be the CRIS chips from Axis, but these seem to be discontinued.
It just strikes me that when you need a processor like an ARM (or MIPS, PPC, Coldfire, etc.) with more memory than you can get with a microcontroller, then you are going to need the CPU, DRAM of some sort, and Flash of some sort. If someone were to put all these modules inside one package, it would save a lot of effort and board space for many users.
If you find out about any suppliers that make such packages - and are happy to sell to small companies - I'm sure it would make an interesting article.
You are telling me that there is a market need; Professor Furber is telling me it is physically possible.
Therefore, market economics dictates that someone will go to the venture capital community (or to a corporate investor such as Samsung, Qualcomm or even ARM) and raise capital on the strength of the idea.
Indeed it is likely that someone already did and is being stealthy. We will try to find them for you.
There is just one tiny little hinder to designing my own ARM device - money!
There are lots of SoC devices available from different manufacturers, with all sorts of different cores. But there are not many that have a decent amount of memory in the same package. The idea of a single package containing a decent CPU (single or multi-core) and plenty of memory is very appealing - it would be smaller and easier to use than separate chips.
I suspect the answer is that you cannot.
Even if you approached Professor Furber with a deal -- say the donation of a shiny new building for the University of Manchester to be called the Brown-Furber School of IT -- you might find that Professor Furber's hands are tied by the licensing terms he agreed with ARM.
But there is nothing to stop you taking a license and designing your own many-core ARM device. Professor Furber has shown that 18 cores plus loads of memory is possible in a 130-micron process. What could you achieve at 32/28-nm or 22/20-nm?
Think of human memory as an analogue IIR filter, rather than a digital FIR, and you get roughly the right idea.
Human memory is limited, but (for most people) rather large. It is also very efficient in storage - it remembers things in relation to other things, rather than "raw data". And your recall mechanism is mixed in with your imagination - if you can't remember details, your brain can make them up.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.