Computing Power a Major Challenge When Simulating the Human Brain
The average human brain packs a hundred billion or so neurons—connected by a quadrillion (1015) constantly changing synapses—into a space the size of a cantaloupe. It consumes a paltry 20 watts, much less than a typical incandescent lightbulb. But simulating this mess of wetware with traditional digital circuits would require a supercomputer that’s a good 1000 times as powerful as the best ones we have available today. And we’d need the output of an entire nuclear power plant to run it.
…Scattered around the world are at least half a dozen projects dedicated to building brain models using specialized analog circuits. Unlike the digital circuits in traditional computers, which could take weeks or even months to model a single second of brain operation, these analog circuits can model brain activity as fast as or even faster than it really occurs, and they consume a fraction of the power. But analog chips do have one serious drawback—they aren’t very programmable. The equations used to model the brain in an analog circuit are physically hardwired in a way that affects every detail of the design, right down to the placement of every analog adder and multiplier. This makes it hard to overhaul the model, something we’d have to do again and again because we still don’t know what level of biological detail we’ll need in order to mimic the way brains behave.
(via Low-Power Chips to Model a Billion Neurons - IEEE Spectrum)