Nanoscale device holds promise for brain inspired computing

1 min read

A team of researchers from the Stanford School of Engineering has demonstrated a new nanoelectronic device which emulates human synapses, the brain's computing mechanism.

The scientists believe the breakthrough could one day lead to portable, energy efficient, adaptable and interactive computer systems that can learn rather than merely respond to given programs. The Stanford team, led by Professor Philip Wong (pictured), claims it is the first to succeed at creating synaptic devices small enough, with a low enough energy consumption, and created with a mature technology so as to anticipate commercial viability down the road. "This development could lead to electronic devices that are so small and so energy efficient that we might be able to make nanoelectronic versions of certain parts of the brain to study how they work," said Professor Wong. "While you can't alter a biological brain, a synthetic device such as this would allow researchers to change the device parameters to reveal how real brains function." The team's device emulates synaptic plasticity using a technology called phase change material. When powered by electricity, these materials change their physical characteristics and therefore their electrical conductivity in tiny increments. Rather than the two states of a transistor, however, the Stanford team has demonstrated an ability to control the synaptic device in 1% increments, meaning each phase change synapse can convey at least 100 values. Wong believes the device could be manufactured using existing commercial equipment with readily available materials."Using well understood manufacturing processes, we can construct a cross point architecture allowing three dimensional stacking of layers that could one day approach the density, compactness and massive parallelism of the human brain," he concluded.