For all it’s flaws and mysteries, the human brain still remains the final frontier that engineers strive to emulate in the ever increasing race to build the most powerful computer on the planet. There have been scientific breakthroughs centered around the the technology required to mimic how the human brain works, stores and processes memory. With each new brain breakthrough, we get even closer to our ultimate goal of a bionic brain.
Unlocking Brain Diseases
We will be able to unlock some of the diseases that still plague our understanding of how the human brain works, such as depression, Alzheimer’s, and parkinson’s, if we can piece together the jigsaw that is the interwoven neural pathways of our brains. Even the most simple of cognitive abilities we have are superior to computers in many aspects. We have been the ones to create the mathematical framework and material design of the technology that we use that gives us the digital computing era of today.
The human brain can complete a range of tasks that even the world’s best computer engineers have no idea how to program. Subjects we take for granted are planning, decision making, and high cognitive tasks. We can’t yet model these concepts, but we can complete them easily, and do everyday. By just reading this paragraph your completing complex tasks at a greater speed than any supercomputer we have in existence.
It takes a huge amount of processing power within our brains for us to read at different speeds, regardless of the font, color or even if its hand typed or printed. Yet this kind of task completion is second nature to us after a few years of learning at an early age. We do have software that can read language to a point, but its nothing compared to the brain. Even companies such as Google still have to use traditional brain power for much of their Google maps data by developing the recapture program that asks people to solve the captcha and enter what they think is the detail. If this could even slightly be done with a computer it would be.
The Analog Brain
The human brain is able to process different forms of complex information. This is what sets it apart from computers, which are restricted to a binary memory of 1s and 0s. The main difference is that we don’t have digital brains, our brains are analog based. This shows why it’s such a holy grail of research to mimic the brain with computers, as they could could make our all our existing technology faster and more accurate, and represent a better understanding of the world around us down to a molecular level.
Hussein Nili, who is a researcher at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) unveiled with his team, a nano memory cell that processes and stores information and data just like our biological brain. Sharath Sriram, who was the project leader stated that it was the closest we have come to creating a brain like system that contains memory and learns and stores analog information. The memory is also able to retrieve this stored information very quickly.
What the team have done is shrunk down a memory cell to an extremely small scale, measuring only a few nanometres across, which is less than a human hair. With this miniature scale it’s possible to retrieve and store information much faster, as there is less distance to travel, and the capacity is even larger too.
If you can imagine shrinking down the size of your microSD card, this is exactly what researchers around the world are working on. Dmitri Strukov is the professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara, and his team have been using this tiny nano memory to build artificial neural circuits that are just like the brain’s pathways. They created an experiment and made a breakthrough from a neural circuit of 100 artificial synapses, and these synapses were able to pick out 3 letter characters from fuzzy pictures and then classify them as the letters they represented correctly. Much like human brainas are asked to do for some of the complex captchas, or just like finding Where’s Wally. Nobody has managed to create and manipulate these type of circuits until now.
Bionic Brain A Reality?
The kind of possibilities that a bionic brain opens up are for the areas of study that are to risky or dangerous to use a real brain for. We will be able to gain insights into the working principles and the faults which will allow medical researchers to find clues about why neurodegenerative diseases work the way they do. Its estimated that it will take another decade to even built a working prototype of a functional brain like processing unit, and a full bionic brain will take much longer. We don’t even know if its possible, but we do know that researchers will never give up trying.