IBM neurocomputer detailed

April 08, 2016 // By R. Colin Johnson
IBM unveiled details about the state of development and its future plans for TrueNorth—its neuromorphic mixed-signal chips based on the human brain.

Its chip architecture, array of evaluation boards, reference systems and software ecosystem were described by their architect at the International Symposium on Physical Design 2016. ISPD 2016 is an Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) conference on next-generation chips sponsored by Intel, IBM, Cadence, Global Foundries, IMEC, Oracle, Synopsys, TSMC, Altera, Xilinx and other stellar chip makers worldwide.

From the first microprocessor to today's supercomputers-on-a-chip, clock speed and power consumption have steadily increased, whereas the IBM TrueNorth designers say we should have been going in the opposite direction - down the curve toward lower-clock speeds and less power consumption, ultimately getting down to the 10-Hz, 20-watt metrics of the human brain.

At ISPD, IBM expressed it aspirations for its brain-like computers, hoping they will become a household name for applications from ultra-smart Internet of Things (IoT) to ultra-smart cars to ultra-smart cameras, ultra-smart drones, ultra-smart medical devices and of course ultra-smart supercomputers.


Fig.1: IBM's brain-like architecture started in upper left by studying the cortical neuronal structure of the human brain, moving right to structural, functional and finally a physical implementation. Likewise more complex neuromorphic inspirations move from other upper left downward from the core concept, to single chips to multi-chip modules. (Source: EE Times)

In his invited paper "Design and Tool Flow of IBM's TrueNorth: An Ultra-Low Power Programmable Neurosynaptic Chip with 1-Million Neurons" IBM's Low-Power Neuromorphic Circuit Designer, Filipp Akopyan described the company's hardware, software and growing ecosystem of support.