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IBM

IBM Working on Brain-Rivaling Computer 627

Obdurate writes "The first supercomputers to approach and even surpass the processing power of the human brain are to be built by IBM, under a $184M contract announced by the US Government yesterday. ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L will be the fastest and most powerful machines built, with a combined capacity equal to the 500 best of todays computers."
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IBM Working on Brain-Rivaling Computer

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  • uhu (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ronaldcromwell ( 596642 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:12AM (#4706276) Homepage
    how do they measure the processing power of the human brain?
    • Re:uhu (Score:2, Funny)

      by medscaper ( 238068 )
      how do they measure the processing power of the human brain?

      They time William Shatner doing some quick calculations...

    • Re:uhu (Score:5, Funny)

      by e8johan ( 605347 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:16AM (#4706328) Homepage Journal
      I do 1-2 flops if I get easy numbers...
      • MASPAR (Score:5, Insightful)

        by .sig ( 180877 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:29AM (#4706499)
        While the human brain is usually not very good at such linear calculations, hence the popularity of a calculator, its true power lies in it's massively parallel processing.

        To tie in an ever popular /. expression, the brain functions very similar to a beowolf cluster. We can design computers (very expensive ones, though) that can simulate many of the simpler activities that humans are capable of (such as complex pattern recognition, primitive conversation skills, and rule-based systems of cause and effect,) but to do all of these at once is still well on the horizion.
        • Re:MASPAR (Score:3, Insightful)

          by quintessent ( 197518 )
          Parallel processing doesn't quite describe it. Throw together a million computers with the best software in the world. You still don't have a brain. What truly makes the brain awesome is the software (and its ability to self-program).
        • Wait a minute! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Etrigan_696 ( 192479 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @01:38PM (#4708545)
          While the human brain is usually not very good at such linear calculations, hence the popularity of a calculator, its true power lies in it's massively parallel processing.


          Hold on there!
          Our brains are fine for huge linear calculations. Better than most calculators in fact.
          Autistic savants....
          Rain Main. That kind of thing.
          There was a kid I knew in high school that could find cube roots for eight digit numbers nearly instantly but he couldn't recognize his brother's face in a picture.

          My personal theory is this: Human brains are like a computer (about a million orders of mangitude more complex though). Most people have that all tied up in hardware dedicated to things like jobs, girl friends, football etc. etc.
          John, my autistic friend in high school, hadn't dedicated the hardware to anything in particular, but he still had it available. He was lacking in a lot of things, but sheer processing power and memory he had in spades.

          As a side story, another friend of mine in high school had epilepsy, and it kept getting worse. He eventually had brain surgery where they severed his corpus callosum. After that, he couldn't add single digit numbers if he closed his right eye. If he closed his left, he couldn't recognize faces. Just kind of shows how the brain works as a parallel system.
        • Re:MASPAR (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Trinition ( 114758 )
          Its not quite like a cluster. There's something like 100 million neurons in your brain. Each is multiply-connected to other neurons. That's billions upon billions of connections.

          However, each neuron itself is quite dump. It is the connections of neurons that create the power of the brain. Yes, things occur in parallel, but the parallelness itself is not the power. If you can understand the power of a simple (say, 10-100) neuron neural network, and multiply the complexity of what you get to the number of neurons in the brain, you will begin to fathom the depth of the brain's power.

      • Re:uhu (Score:5, Funny)

        by scotay ( 195240 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:46AM (#4706668)
        That's before overclocking [tripod.com].
      • Smarter! was: Re:uhu (Score:4, Interesting)

        by seschmi ( 531566 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:52AM (#4706756)
        You underestimate your abilities by far - ever seen robots playing soccer? To hit a slowly rolling ball needs several MFLOPS, and every 2-year-old can easily do this. If you compare the the abilities of the robots to those of the average soccer player, you will see how easily the human brain can outperform a computer. On the other hand: Every time I listen to the interviews after a soccer match, I doubt if the statement above is true.
    • Re:uhu (Score:5, Funny)

      by binaryDigit ( 557647 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:17AM (#4706339)
      Easy, just run SPEC-brain.
    • Re:uhu (Score:5, Informative)

      by ktulu1115 ( 567549 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:20AM (#4706376)
      It's difficult to estimate, because the human brain is incredibly fast at some things (recognizing a face/voice, processing multiple sounds/images simultaneously, etc...) that would take a computer much longer to do, but on the other hand, it's rather slow at performing specific calculations (How long does it take you to add 100 integers together?).

      Even so, the human brain is rated somewhere at millions of gigaflops. Quite interesting. Here are some articles (google for some more):

      http://www.intel.com/pressroom/archive/speeches/jt 101100.htm [intel.com]
      http://zinos.com/cool/zinos/scan/se=AR002649/sp=vi ew_article/rs=yes/go.html [zinos.com]
      • Re:uhu (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Junta ( 36770 )
        But, to be fair, humans are at a disadvantage in terms of how numbers are represented in our brains and how we take input. For example, have a handwritten piece of paper scanned, OCRed, and then perform math. We handle the 'hard part' of scanning, recognizing, and transferring the information via a convenient avenue for the computer/calculator to handle. Even general purpose computers are quite restricted and highly optimized to handle a small subset of things, while human brains are extremely general purpose, but not optimized for intense mathematical operations.
        • Re:uhu (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ComaVN ( 325750 )
          Don't forget that the human brain is capable of designing devices to do certain things it's bad at (math) at incredible speeds. Which makes determining the intelligence/brain power of humans a recursive problem.
      • Adding numbers (Score:5, Insightful)

        by andyring ( 100627 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @11:12AM (#4706942) Homepage
        Sure, it takes a while to add up 100 numbers, because you're doing a task differently than the best way a brain functions.

        Look at it this way. Go outside, on a windy day (adding more variables to the mix) and have someone throw you a football/basketball/baseball/frisbee/whatever. It probably takes 3-4 seconds at most for the ball to reach you, and looooong before that, your brain completed a monstrous calculus problem. It figured in the position of the thrower, the wind velocity and direction, direction/speed of the ball, the ball's arc of travel, and in the next split second, sent signals to your legs and feet to move your body to the ball's expected landing spot.

        But wait, it's the ball's landing spot minus about five feet, because your brain figures you want to be positioned to catch the ball when it's about 4-5 feet off the ground. It simultaneously sends signals to your hands and arms, positioning them to catch the ball, taking into account the ball's speed, size and mass.

        A lot of calculations in an extremely short period of time! And, if you think that's impressive for a human brain, the brain in that dumb mutt of yours in the back yard can do the same thing when you toss him a tennis ball.

        • Re:Adding numbers (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Usquebaugh ( 230216 )
          But is the brain calculating this or rather looking up the answer? I know as a toddler I couldn't catch squat, but as I got older I got better. Was the reason increased proceesing power, my brain got bigger. Or more experience, I'd caught a lot more balls by then.

          I doubt very much the brain is clunking through calculus.
          • Yes, and yes. (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Decimal ( 154606 )
            But is the brain calculating this or rather looking up the answer? I know as a toddler I couldn't catch squat, but as I got older I got better. Was the reason increased proceesing power, my brain got bigger. Or more experience, I'd caught a lot more balls by then.

            I doubt very much the brain is clunking through calculus.


            Sure it is. What do you think "more experience" means? It means that the neurons in your brain have reconnected in ways to tackle a task better each time. It doesn't necessarily mean your brain did it one way or another. Let's look at the two ways that a wetware computer could catch the ball:

            A) Mathematics. [Input: (Here is the ball now. And here is where it is now. And this is roughtly how fast the wind is blowing and what direction it is coming from...) -> Process (Compare position of the ball at time A to that of time B, then to time C, the path is making an arc... Extrapolate that arc. Where will the ball be at time D? -> Output (Move those hands and catch!)]. That doesn't necessarily mean you used more neurons (your "bigger brain") to do it. It's like taking a chunk of mixed silicon and metal and turning it one step at a time into a 3GHz custom CPU. Reorganization made for faster processing.

            B) Look up tables. Keep a log of past experiences, the solution to each experience and reference it each time a task is done. Certain things your brain probably only uses a lookup table for -- digit - by - digit multiplication for example. The brain recognizes a Platonistic "football-ish" object and throws it into the works. It thinks, what did I do the last time I had a football pitched it right at my noggin?

            But you can't tell me that the circumstances are the same every time someone throws you the ball. If your brain was simply trying to catch by following previous experiences, it would fail to find a previous experience when the wind suddenly shifts and blows hard. Or you trip over a rock, stumble and still make the catch. Or the ball travels at a different speed. Do you just stand there, or improvise? If your brain isn't doing any actual number crunching to catch that ball, did you only catch it the last time by chance? And just think of how much storage space would be needed to hold every experience! Quite the cluttered mess. It makes much more sense in this situation to reply more upon the math than it does look up tables.

            So the last poster was right. A brain does do math to catch that ball. And you're right, a brain does reference previous experiences when trying to catch that ball.

            Since this math is done by specialized brain functions that were prepared to do just that, and are inseperably integrated with other brain connections -- it doesn't mean that you could take that calculus ability and use it for another task. But the math is being done.
        • Re:Adding numbers (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tshak ( 173364 )
          I'm sorry, but this is hogwash. Our brains are not amazing because of their computational power, but because of human intuition. The entire concept that we can match up a machine's computation to the brain's is trivializing how the brain functions. I was able to catch a football before I even studied mathematics, let alone arithmetic. There is no calculus problem being solved.
          • Re:Adding numbers (Score:4, Informative)

            by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @04:31PM (#4710244) Homepage Journal
            I'm sorry, but this is hogwash. Our brains are not amazing because of their computational power, but because of human intuition.

            What, praytell, can "human intuition" possibly be other than the result of the brain taking information and acting on it? The analogy between a computer and a human brain has all sorts of problems.

            Nevertheless, there is no such thing as "human intuition". Brains are made of neurons. Chemical and electrical signaling between the neurons is the only thing that causes anything to happen in our brains. There is no humonculus controlling anything. There is no random number generator. Human intuition may be described, IMHO, as logical extrapolations based on imperfect knowledge. It is not some mystical, non-computational characteristic of neurology.

            The entire concept that we can match up a machine's computation to the brain's is trivializing how the brain functions.

            The brain is relatively simply at a basic level. Chemicals and electric signals are exchanged by various neurons. This represents the exchange of information, some meaningful, some not, some we just don't know about. Certain regions of the brain are responsible for processing visual data (much of the "conscious" brain could be viewed as a massive extension of the eye).

            We break down each function related to the problem and track it to the subsystem, breaking everything down into smaller and smaller and more discrete processes, and it all begins to look very much like simple computational problems. We're used to dealing with digital computers and our analysis of how to solve problems with digital computers is certainly not applicable to the brain on a one-to-one basis -- that is just nuts.

            The short reply to your assertion is, however, that the only way we will ever understand the functioning of the "brain" and the rest of the related nervous system is to break it down into little parts, i.e. trivialize it.

            I was able to catch a football before I even studied mathematics, let alone arithmetic. There is no calculus problem being solved.

            But I'll bet that you didn't learn how to catch a ball without getting stoved fingers, missing a bunch of them, dropping balls on occasion from mis-judging speed, height, the position of your body, etc.

            Memory, experience, and the brain's wonderful ability to track moving things (likely a residual survival skill) easily do this without requiring conscious thought on your part.

            The fact that you are unaware of the process and the calculations being made does not mean that they are not being made. Are you aware of the temperature calculations for when you bump the stove? ("I wonder how hot this is...hmmm...it feels as though it might cause third degree burns in 1.2 seconds...oh...it has already been 3.2 seconds...I'd better remove my hand.") Much is going on "behind the curtain". Consciousness appears to be related to only a very little of what we do on a regular basis.

            guac-foo
          • Re:Adding numbers (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @07:22PM (#4711569) Homepage
            I was able to catch a football before I even studied mathematics, let alone arithmetic. There is no calculus problem being solved.

            Yes there is.

            Just because you hadn't been taught how to manipulate manmade concepts such as symbols and numbers and call the process 'calculus' doesn't mean your brain hadn't formed skills to calculate changes in dozens of variables such as position/velocity over time and act on the results.

            You might as well say "I never learned biochemistry until college. Prior to that, eating involved no complex carbohydrates being digested because I didn't know how."

    • With the SI Brain-unit, of course: the Narf (often seen abbreviated in the literature as the "Na"). Even someone with an intellect in the milli-Narf range should be able to figure this out! ("What are we going to measure tonight?" "The same thing we measure every night, Pinky...")
    • by Reinout ( 4282 ) <reinout@vanr e e s .org> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:23AM (#4706419) Homepage

      A nice article I found about the subject is http://www.transhumanist.com/volume1/moravec.htm [transhumanist.com]

      Nice graph from the document: http://www.transhumanist.com/volume1/All_things_07 5.jpg [transhumanist.com]

      Reinout

    • Re:uhu (Score:5, Informative)

      by dTb ( 304368 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:24AM (#4706423)
      See MIT [mit.edu] The activity of the brain is equivalent to that of 1000 kHz processor with 40 Gbits of states.
      • Re:uhu (Score:5, Informative)

        by maraist ( 68387 ) <michael@maraistNO.SPAMgmail@n0spam@com> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @12:13PM (#4707514) Homepage
        Actually, it's more complex than this.

        There is evidence that the human brain works in a holographic manner. Ref: book [amazon.com].

        The basic idea is that all the dentrites for a rooted interference network. The electrical stimuli probagate through the roots and electromagnetically interfere with each other in very complex ways that are unique to each brain's particular wiring.

        The particular orientation, size and speed of the wiring isn't important. What is important is that there is sufficient randomness and interconnectedness.

        One of the most striking attributes of holography is that when two images are super-imposed apon one another and a representation of their signal is passed through the holographic film-plate, a correlation is saved to the medium. Now if either of the two original signals (representing one of the original physical objects) is passed into the holographic medium, then the second object will be reinvigorated. As en axample. Light Beam splitting and bouncing two object to record to a holographic film plate allows for shutting off one beam and still being able to see both images reflected off the holographic plate. This is [presumably] the property of association in the brain. Thus we associated all things we experience to all other things we experience. The most vivid the experiance, the greater the tendency of that experience to be reflected apon when it's corrolated activities recur. From this, the mere recollection of the original vivid experience is enough to associate it with newer experiences. Thus our unique human defining characterists have to do with the particular order that vivid experiences occur and what things we associate them with.

        Further, a hologram stores an infinite amount of information with decreasing precision. If you take a holographic plate and break into into a thousand irregular pieces... Each piece contains the complete information necessary to reproduce the holographic image (and associated correlations), however, the image becomes blurrier and blurrier the smaller the fragment. Mathmatically, this is a convolution operation (If I'm not mistaken), where every piece of data manipulates every other piece of data, so every saved piece of data (atom) is some combination of all data. But the data is useless without some amount of adjacenta data to re-extract some approximation of the original. It's like taking the Fourier transform of a signal, then band-limiting it in some complex way, then converting back to the time-domain (e.g. mp3 compression, but for the entire audio file instead of in blocks). You get a fuzzy view of reality, yet some patterns still remain very apparent.

        This is [possibly] the fundamental problem with modeling the human brain in a computer. A computer can not base future decisions on a linear combination of all past experiences, since it would very quickly be overwhelmed with data, it's an O(n!) problem. It would not be much better off if it attempts to simply take the fouier transform of all it's input data and perform statistical analysis. This assumes a single transformation model (such as sinusoidal decomposition). Instead, (if I'm interpreting the book correctly), the holographic model would be an irregular transformation with a highly complex (though analog and fast) decomposition based on probagation delays through random lenghted dentriets all generating complex interference patters. This allows for a large number of orthogonal patterns to be represented in the transformed domain (as opposed to simple sinusoidal patterns with Fourier).

        The first thing to note is that analog representations can be very effienct in such computations.. Perhaps more research should go into the analog world before we can begin modeling brains. (The end result would be a hybrid. Something which would not have as reliable a result as a digital computer, but would be faster to make decisions than a human and yet not require such input precision as a computer (i.e. the fuzzy logic of the early 90's)).

        The second thing to note is that regular patterns of computational capability are probably not going to be as useful as an irregular array of delay-lined interconnections of CPU nodes. If a sufficient number of CPU's were connected in such a manner, then certain patterns would be exploitable being spacially/temporally repeatable and thus recognizable. Mind you, we'd have to have numbers of CPUs and randomized interconnections on the order of the Human brain. Further, there would have to be a mechanism that allows for interference of data (the key to holography). Perhaps this is the necessary analog stage.

        The point isn't really to describe a possible solution, but more to discredit most modern attempts at human consciousness through a computer. Most that I've seen (modeling of a neuron as inductance/capacitance/transistor circuits), don't hit on many of the fundanmental attributes of neural networks, and are thus doomed to failure. Moreover, purely modeling a neuron isn't going to be valuable.. At best, all we'd succeed in is producing a silicon version of a human. But it would necessarily be non-digital in nature. A hybrid is what we really need; taking the best of both worlds, while trying to minimize the worst. For example, hypothetically speaking, we could construct a large irregular array of CPU-nodes (possibly on a single die to be cost effective) that are doing real digital calculations, but the data-sets have interference in a controlled way. Thus when you ask it to divide 242341541234 into 552312341234 it can be as responsive as a modern computer, BUT the act of requesting that information and processing it generates interference for the cognitive portion of the collective node. Thus when instructions are more fuzzy than "please tell me what is x / y" for the above values, the cognitive section can make quick distored decisions of how best to answer the question (e.g. have a truely contextual view of the world). Moreover, the cpu-network dedicated to cognative work would be acting as an overseer of data. Expecting certain patterns. Such activity would be a sort of checks and balances for all processed data.. Theoretically, a simple application would be in determining when/if a cpu node or periferal device has gone bad. The possibilities could be endless, but we're still a while off from the level of technology required to produce billions of randomly interconnected CPU's.
    • Re:uhu (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xaoswolf ( 524554 )
      And who's brain are they measuring?

      Sometimes I think that my old 486 had more processing power than some people.

  • by GeckoFood ( 585211 ) <geckofood@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:13AM (#4706281) Journal
    ...said computer will have more sense than IBM's marketing department... ;o)
  • Evolution (Score:5, Funny)

    by e8johan ( 605347 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:13AM (#4706288) Homepage Journal
    1. Build computer smarter than the brain. 2. Make the computer design new computers. 3. Make even faster computers. 4. Iterate!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:14AM (#4706297)
    How often does it think about sex?
  • Wow (Score:2, Funny)

    by Salden ( 571264 )
    Can this thing telecommute? It could hold several jobs since most people only use a fraction of their brain at work. I wonder if it can do its own taxes.
    • Re:Wow (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 )
      > Can this thing telecommute? It could hold several jobs since most people only use a fraction of their brain at work. I wonder if it can do its own taxes.

      No, and no.

      It's only got the power of one human brain.

      First, that means it's too stupid to telecommute, and probably prefers to sit in traffic for an hour or two each day in a busy-wait.

      Second, on the ability to do its own taxes, it's up against over 500 lawyers masquerading public servants on Capitol Hill who are drafting laws to make the tax code even more incomprehensible.

      Even if we assume a generous lawyer-to-human intelligence ratio, it's still outgunned at least ten-to-one.

  • by 20goto10 ( 222991 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:15AM (#4706303) Homepage
    In fact he's a bit thick.
  • Thank god (Score:5, Funny)

    by drunkmonk ( 241978 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:15AM (#4706305) Homepage
    Now we can have computers that screw things up at a rate that rivals our own! Because seriously, we needed the competition.
  • by mustangdavis ( 583344 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:16AM (#4706320) Homepage Journal
    Is that measured in flops or mips?

    The first supercomputers to approach and even surpass the processing power of the human brain


    Actually, that won't be that difficult to do if they are comparing this computer with the "brain power" some of the doe-doe's I went to high school with ...

  • I once had an exercise in a business math class where half had calculators and the other had nothing. Calculator users *had* to use the calculator. The teacher then asked simple arithmetic questions - 2x2, 3 minus 1, etc. Of course, the people without calculators could answer first.

    The fastest computer in the world will always be limited to how quickly data may be fed to it. One way or another, a human will have to direct this operation - if only for safety and security considerations.
    • by jstrayer ( 215550 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:22AM (#4706409)
      I once had an exercise in a business math class where half had calculators and the other had nothing. Calculator users *had* to use the calculator. The teacher then asked simple arithmetic questions - 2x2, 3 minus 1, etc. Of course, the people without calculators could answer first.

      That shows that our fingers are slower than our brains. No surprise there.

      The fastest computer in the world will always be limited to how quickly data may be fed to it. One way or another, a human will have to direct this operation - if only for safety and security considerations.

      That's just silly. Computers can already prcess data much faster than you or I (or you and I) can follow.
    • > Of course, the people without calculators could answer first.

      Duh. The mind is quicker than the fingers. Now quick, what's the cube root of 13524629198529852974623651235?
  • not too far away... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mirko ( 198274 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:16AM (#4706326) Journal
    We will have such chips implanted into our brains in order to reason even quicker, then we will develop newer chip that will help design newer computers that will miniaturize themselves as new implants that will help us...
    etc.
    How far are we from learning kung fu from an optical disk ? :)
  • HAL [slashdot.org]

    Now whose brain are we using as a benchmark? Anna Nicole Smith or Marilyn Vos Savant?

    • Re:Deja Vu (Score:3, Funny)

      by Gropo ( 445879 )
      Now whose brain are we using as a benchmark? Anna Nicole Smith or Marilyn Vos Savant?
      I might have an opportunity to meet Marilyn Vos Savant next month at the annual Parade Publications holliday party... I'll be sure and ask her the outcome of a 14 megaton detonation if it were to occur on the corner of 47th and Lex at about the 25th story level. I'll get back to you on that ;)
      • Re:Deja Vu (Score:3, Funny)

        by Tackhead ( 54550 )
        > > Now whose brain are we using as a benchmark? Anna Nicole Smith or Marilyn Vos Savant?
        >
        >I might have an opportunity to meet Marilyn Vos Savant next month at the annual Parade Publications holliday party... I'll be sure and ask her the outcome of a 14 megaton detonation if it were to occur on the corner of 47th and Lex at about the 25th story level. I'll get back to you on that ;)

        The difference between theoretical and experimental science, in a nutshell.

        A theoretical physicsist knows that the simplest way to get the answer is to just ask Marilyn Vos Savant, wait a few moments while she derives the equations for the 14MT blast at the desired altitude from first principles, and then punches it into Blast Mapper [pbs.org] to demonstrate that indeed, her answer of "well, it'll suck more than the 1MT blast, and less than the 25MT blast" is within the paramaeters of the open literature.

        An experimental physicist, on the other hand, will find out - and will do so much more quickly than the theoretician - simply by asking Anna Nicole Smith by means of a telephone call placed from at least 20 miles away, and observe the results as Anna's head explodes during her brain's attempted parsing of the question. (Predicted criticality point: somewhere between the words "outcome" and "of").

  • Is it just me or doesn't the governement already have enough ultra-mega computers built for them? I mean, what do they do with the old 1.4 terrabit systems? Use them as Unreal 2003 servers?
  • by sstory ( 538486 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:18AM (#4706355) Homepage
    there's variability in human brains. I wonder whose brain it will rival. We don't need to spend $100,000,000,000 to wind up with an electronic version of Pat Robertson or Rush Limbaugh.
  • Hooray! (Score:5, Funny)

    by RomikQ ( 575227 ) <romikq@mail.ru> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:19AM (#4706359) Homepage
    Perhaps now we will get the Answer to Life, Universe, Everything!

    And it damn better not be 42!
  • This is like trying to compare apples and oranges, or rather, apples and trees.

    The human brain does more than simple processing. Think about it, the ability to do calculations, etc., is tied into the most ancient (reptilian) part of the brain.

    Now, if they could make a computer that could experience emotions (or could explain what women really want :-)), that would be a true accomplishment.

    • I think they are taking that into consideration. The ability to do calculations is a very high level function (how many dogs can do it?), and we know computers can do that a LOT faster than us (when was the last time you multiplied a billion numbers in a second?). Its all the autonomous functions of the brain (i.e. vision and speech processing, etc) that contribute to our amazing computation abilities.
  • by Etrigan_696 ( 192479 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:20AM (#4706374)
    Thou Shalt Not Make a Machine in the image of the mind of Man.

    Somehow, I think that might be good advice.
  • by kargis ( 468280 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:21AM (#4706385)
    The processing power of a honeybee's brain in terms of the power needed for it to perform flight as it does, and find honey, and return to the hive, etc., has been estimated at 60 teraflops. The idea that 6 times as much processing power = the human brain seems reasonably foolish. I think ultimately, the problem is that people tend to think of brains as giant calculating machines, when they're not -- there's a great deal of hardwired logic controlling things like breathing and reflexes, that aren't so much mediated by calculation, as they are by simple input output "black-box" sort of processes. This is another reason attempting to equate a brain to a giant computer seems foolish.

    Kargis Strong, MD
  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:21AM (#4706391)
    I think I read somewhere that brain fires bursts of neurotransmitters in the range of 40 Hz. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, you're conciousness is running on a processor that's slower than the chip in your GBA or your Palm Pilot.

    I think that what most people don't get is that the brain is not that powerful a computer... It's just very, very good at what it's supposed to do.

    Think of it this way. Instead of a computer and mobo combination, consider the brain as dozens and dozens of embedded micro-controllers that talk to eachother via a protocol. Each one is very specific. We have one that handles getting audio signals, one that handles getting video signals... and then completely different controllers for recognizing voice, music, speech, text, and images. There is one overlying controller-- the frontal lobe-- but most of what is does is pattern matching and random number generation. It's the combination or all these working together, not the raw ability of the brain to process information, that makes the magic of 'conciousness'.
  • But... (Score:2, Funny)

    by r_j_prahad ( 309298 )
    Will it cuss whenever it gets a core dump? Will it cry when its favorite sysadmin leaves for a new job? Will it get horny when a cute little beowulf cluster comes sashaying by? Will it eventually get totally stupid and become a manager?

    My place in the universe is still very much assured it would seem.
  • I bet it can't understand women though.

    And does it crash when exposed to porn?

  • What this means is that the hardware has gotten to a point where it can do tons of new stuff. It's the software that's lacking behind. With this much processing power, human like voice and image recognition, and at least the thought process of an insect should be theoretically possible, if only we had the s/w to do it.

    The ball's on our court now.
  • Brain, pfft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:26AM (#4706453)

    It's not anything remotely like a human brain. They're making some rough analogy between storage size, processing speed, and the number and nature of neurons in the human skull. This is just a really really really fast/big version of existing machines.

    Again, for those who haven't read Douglas Hofstadter's excellent books GEB and MMT - being human-like is a *really* tough thing for a computer, and we haven't even begun to figure out the basics of it on paper. Maybe in 100 years we'll understand the problem better, but I'll place my bets now that when we do we'll finally realize it's futile to try to mimic it.
  • by the_mind_ ( 157933 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:27AM (#4706468)


    Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14am.

  • As powerful as a human brain, but:

    > will lack the consciousness,
    > intellect and capacity for thought of a brain,
    > but will be equivalent in calculating
    > speed and power.

    Um, consciousness, intellect, and capacity for thought are what make the human brain powerful.

    As far as floating-point operations (Flops), I found that a 1980's SR-50 calculator was much faster than my human brain.

    They are better off measuring the power against animal brains, but don't get too high up into the primates, because I bet this computer couldn't figure out how to use the box and the stick to get the bananas down from the ceiling.
  • The computers will not have artificial intelligence, and scientists remain many years away from building one that matches even the abilities of a simple mouse brain.
    So I imagine that IBM will not be Taking Over The World in the near future.
  • Crayola (Score:3, Funny)

    by SplendidIsolatn ( 468434 ) <splendidisolatnNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:29AM (#4706488)
    ASCI Purple

    I can't wait until a few years from now when we're treated to talking about ASCI Mauve, ASCI Burnt Sienna, and ASCI Periwinkle....
  • by mfago ( 514801 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:36AM (#4706558)
    Anyone else notice that? Power4 is the current generation, and holds the 9th spot [top500.org] on the top-500 list with only 1280 processors!

    I'm sure IBM is working hard on a new interconnect for this beast. Anyone know about the next-generation SP switch?

    The press release [ibm.com] also mentions that Purple will consist of "196 seperate computers" -- which works out to 64-processors per computer. Way to go IBM: the current Power4 systems are only to 32-way!
  • by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:40AM (#4706596) Homepage
    The Raw processing power of the brain is very high, but its actual effectiveness and speed is crap. The reason is the IO speeds, the network interface (spine) has poor throughput and requires lots of individual channels rather than being able to operate as a simple bus, this means loads of wasted space when a channel isn't doing anything.

    The external interfaces are even worse, these make the brain totally useless for many tasks that computers can process in seconds. As an example try raytracing a rendering a scene using crayons and doing the maths in your head.

    So the human brain totally and utterly is secondary to the computer already.

    Apart from the fact that humans can be inspired. The solution may take a computer 100 years to attack by brute force and it will get there... but a smart person will do it in minutes because "its obvious".

    Computers already outstrip us in terms of processing, but while they are just grown up calculators they miss the essence of human processing. A computer hardwired to mutate everything via /dev/random would be pretty useless, and yet the software in humans means that this is a greatest advantage.

    It will be generations before computers will have reached a stage they can start doing the obvious. The limited processing of the brain has produced the people on the Jerry Springer show and Isaac Newton, it ain't the hardware, its the software that counts.
  • by banda ( 206438 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:42AM (#4706620)
    So a computer with the processing capacity of a human brain is to be put to work by the government? Does the US government have any actual experience in managing something as powerful as a human brain? How long before the computer realizes it could do much better in the private sector?
  • by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:48AM (#4706688) Homepage Journal
    Lots of interesting things about this:

    First, the real issue is not hardware or CPU cycles -- it is software. Tired of Seti@home? Let's build a distributed processing network that has as many CPU cycle equivalents as the human brain! Oh yeah, that's already been done. Ok, so why doesn't it "think" yet? Oh yeah...software.

    The issue is how to integrate storage, processing, "RAM", etc. into a software package that can emulate a human brain's method of thinking (which may be a very bad, krufty method of developing consciousness -- why would anyone use meat for processors? What a kludgy hack!).

    (OT: what if "thinking" software is _not_ GPL'ed? That could be really frightening. So could security issues for "thinking" machines.)

    Second, the next issue is why should we compare digital thinking machines to biological ones? Maybe it is the only benchmark we can think of, but given the truly awkward way in which light-sensitive cells were adapted for inclusion a biological thinking machine (see Francis Crick's "Astonishing Hypothesis"), why can't a much more efficient independent decision making machine be developed from digital equipment (not DEC, btw) actually designed for the purpose?

    The human brain/computer comparison is really a red herring. The only reason to create a human-like digital thinking machine/emulator (and you thought WINE was hard to use...) might be to pursue immortality. I think the more likely reason is that it would be the ultimate species-wide circle jerk. Humanity getting off on creating humanity. Bleh. Let's set our sights a little higher.

    guac-foo
    • First, the real issue is not hardware or CPU cycles -- it is software.

      Excellent post. Wish I had some mod points today.

      It's good that someone is addressing the hardware issue, but the software is equally important. We're not even close to the sort of problem-solving software the human brain holds.

      Personally, I don't think we'll get there by trying to simulate a human brain straight up. I think that, as we learn more about the building blocks of life over the next 200 years, we'll be able to build those low-level rules into a life simulation. Then... well, we let artificial life "evolve" within this simulation. If we start with one-celled animals and eventually multicellular creatures evolve, we know we're doing something right.

      (And if we start with non-living components -- raw elements and quantum physics -- and eventually get living one-celled animals, then we REALLY know we're doing something right ;)

      Okay, okay, now I'm just talking crazy. But I think we'll be there within the next 200 years, and when we get there, we're going to have a whole new set of ethical and practical issues to grapple with...
  • by Frank of Earth ( 126705 ) <frank@NOSPAm.fperkins.com> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:49AM (#4706714) Homepage Journal
    ..contract announced by the US Government yesterday. This computer will be delivered just in time for the national debates of the 2004 election, subbing in for George Bush.
  • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:50AM (#4706719) Homepage
    Dear IBM,

    I couldn't help but notice that you were hard at work developing a computer to rival the human brain to the tune of $184,000,000.

    It just so happens that I have a human brain and I would be quite happy to let you use it for a tidy sum that is far below the aformentioned $184M.

    Please give me a call at your earliest convenience to work out the details.

    Thanks,
    Jason

    ----[%snip]----
  • by visionsofmcskill ( 556169 ) <vision@@@getmp...com> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:52AM (#4706751) Homepage Journal
    its called the child playing wall ball syndome

    Although the "rated" processor cycle of a human brain may be measured in Hz... the overall number-crunching and algorithm pattern matching power of 4 billion years of refinement utterly out-class any computer well be making for years to come.

    Case in point.. A child playing wall ball makes more physics calculations in one minute of game than a whole team of physicists could map out in months.... he calculates his own mass, his own speed, the angles and exact acceleration of his arms, the weight and distribution of balence between his feet, all while tracking the movements and possible movements of a ball with its own mass and porportions and an opponent. We could count layers upon layers of others things this kid is doing without thought, breathing, processing and responding to components inside his body such as adreneline, and a host of other things... but what it really comes down to is a child's Brain subconsciously is far more powerfull than any comp on the planet.

    The comparison of raw number crunching super-clusters to a human who is nearly autonomus, learns independantly and can adapt to many situations in the blink of an eye (where a comp would take considerable reprogramming to adjust to new tasks) is falacy at best.

    It has been predicted that AI will reach the emotional awareness of a teenager around 2050

    --Enter The Sig
    --
  • by Joey7F ( 307495 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:56AM (#4706790) Homepage Journal
    We can make mechanical hearts so the tin man is taken care of. All that's left is to give the cowardly lion a lot of booze and suddenly Dorothy is off to see the wizard by herself.

    --Joey
  • He he he (Score:5, Funny)

    by ayjay29 ( 144994 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:56AM (#4706792)
    Imagine a bewul... --sssllllaaaaappppp!!!!

  • The Brain: Facts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @10:57AM (#4706799) Journal
    Neurons in adults: 2x10E9 to 5x10E9
    Synapses in adults: 10E14, a few thousand per neuron
    Neuron firings per second: max 2 Khz

    The biggest challenge in comparing brain to supercomputer is the massive connectivity of brain, with 2000-5000 synapses per neuron.

    The total processing speed of ASCII Purple sounds about right for number of neurons in brain times the maximum number of pulses per second per neuron.

    Given there are 10E14 synapses, each one with at least a byte of synpatic weight associated with it, it would need memory of at least around a petabyte of memory, although synpase memory change speeds are probably not faster than tape, and I know of plenty of installations with a petabyte on tape.

    But here is the kicker: Will those 100 teraflops be flops that can use thousands of inputs? Probably not. So I'd argue that to truly be as powerful as the human brain, you would need 100 petaflops of 1-2 input flops, with at least a petabyte tape system.
    • Re:The Brain: Facts (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrGrendel ( 119863 )
      Neuron firings per second: max 2 Khz
      Cortical neurons, which do most of the complex processing, only fire at about 1-5 Hz on average. Some neurons can fire in the kHz range, but not for very long.
      The total processing speed of ASCII Purple sounds about right for number of neurons in brain times the maximum number of pulses per second per neuron.
      It's a lot harder than that, which is what makes these kinds of estimations so silly. For one thing, 1 pulse does not equal 1 bit in a brain as it does in a transistor. A single firing of a neuron can transmit up to 3.5 bits. This is because the firing time is important to the information content and the activity of neighboring neurons is also important. A group of neurons firing all at once transmits much more information than those same neurons firing individually at random times (in most cases -- there are exceptions to this).
      Given there are 10E14 synapses, each one with at least a byte of synpatic weight associated with it, it would need memory of at least around a petabyte of memory
      You also need to keep track of the state of the neuron (membrane potential, neurotransmitter concentrations, etc). The state of the neuron and the recent activity of a synapse and its neighboring synapses influence how much the "weight" matters. Certain patterns of input count for more than others.

      Most of the calculations of brain processing power that you read about are made by people who either don't understand the problem or haven't thought about it enough. Our knowledge of how the brain processes and stores information is extremely primitive at this point, so any estimation of the processing power is not much more than a wild guess. As with other sciences, every answer we find raises more questions. The more we study the problem, the harder it becomes. One of the most difficult things to deal with is that the software is the hardware. To make matters worse, the hardware can (and does) change. It's a lot like a computer that builds and programs itself.

  • by paranoia2k ( 171385 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @11:17AM (#4706984)
    ASCI Purple will be built using 12,544 IBM Power5 microprocessors, the same chips that are used in Apple PCs and Nintendo games systems.

    Umm, how about...NOT. Just because they're all PowerPC based doesn't make them the same. Based on that logic a 386 and a Pentium 4 are the same too, just beacuse they're both built on the x86 architecture.

    Power 5 (can't find a link) is a generation of chips that are related, but further on the horizon than the chips Apple is buying [slashdot.org] (both are Power 4 spin-offs, but quite different). The chips used in the Nintendo GameCube [ibm.com] are not even related -- they just happen to also be made by IBM -- not to mention they are several years old while the above chips are not even available yet.

    Then again having a server class chip in a Nintendo might be interesting...
  • BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nesneros ( 214571 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @11:30AM (#4707099) Homepage
    Digital computers and the human brain work on completely different computational principles. The people who run these meaningless calculations on the "processing power of the brain" take each synapse to be a bit. That's absolute bunk when you're talking about the nonlinear properties of even small networks of neurons, much less the massively complex architecture of the brain. Until we actually develop an understanding of how neural networks (real neural networks, not the stuff that drives touchpads) operate, we can't even begin to make realistic comparisons.

    btw, I'm a ee who does neuroscience research, so I'm not talking out of my ass here.
  • currency is off. (Score:3, Informative)

    by pheared ( 446683 ) <kevin AT pheared DOT net> on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @11:30AM (#4707104) Homepage
    £184 million, not $184 million.
  • What OS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yog ( 19073 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @11:43AM (#4707215) Homepage Journal
    What operating system will this thing use? The linked article didn't say, except for something about "autonomic" self-diagnosing and repair, which is intriguing as well.
  • by nebenfun ( 530284 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @12:32PM (#4707730)
    ASCI White, Deep Blue(understandable), but now
    ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L ? WTF?

    Is the next version going to be called
    ASCI Pink and Purple? or ASCI Barbie's Dreamhouse.....

    Get back to naming the systems after Tolkien characters, or greek gods. ( :) )

    Skynet will rule the human race, sure enough, but it won't be called "Skynet". It will be known as
    ASCI SuperPoopyPants.

    nbfn
    • Actually, the reason for Blue Gene is the following:

      The life science division of IBM was looking at doing protein folding, and calculations showed that you'd need a 1 Teraflop computer running for a year to fold an average protein (about the same as doing it in the web lab).

      So they're building it now and Blue Gene/L is the first version of that computer.
  • by Rand Race ( 110288 ) on Tuesday November 19, 2002 @05:14PM (#4710608) Homepage
    Mike Nelson, IBM's director of internet technology...


    Shouldn't Joel Robinson be the director of this project? I mean, the guy made at least three AIs out of parts meant to stop and start movies! Mike was barely able to keep them functioning after Joel escaped.

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