Computer research claws forward

IBM and others simulate feline thinking
Jan 07, 2010
By staff

Though this may sound like bad sci-fi, it's actually an important milestone in the mercurial world of computer science: researchers have taught a computer to think like a cat. But don't look for a laptop inclined to nap in sunny spots and tear up your furniture—this supercomputer, designed by researchers from IBM, Stanford University, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been programmed to accurately simulate the functions of the feline cerebral cortex. This development follows a succession of advancements wherein scientists have simulated a living being's brain. Previous replications have included all or a portion of the cortices of rats and mice, for example.

How super is this supercomputer? It has roughly 100,000 times the memory and processing power of the computer at your clinic's front desk. But this experiment isn't about gaudy system attributes—it's about understanding how the brain works and harnessing that power for application in a wide variety of fields, including medicine. IBM's Dharmendra Modha says that the team's work could result in computers less reliant on the logic of data and more able to deal in abstraction. This "cognitive computing" approach would be useful in analyzing tremendous amounts of information in innovative ways.

Modha notes that computer simulation of the human brain is currently beyond the reach of technology but may be realistic within ten years.