UK research holds promise for ‘brain like’ computing

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Researchers at the University of Exeter claim to have taken a major step towards the development of 'brain like' computers.

Published in the journal Advanced Materials and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the study involved the first ever demonstration of simultaneous information processing and storage using phase change materials. The researchers believe this new technique could revolutionise computing by making computers faster and more energy efficient, as well as making them more closely resemble biological systems. "Computers currently deal with processing and memory separately, resulting in a speed and power bottleneck caused by the need to continually move data around," explained lead author of the report, Professor David Wright. "This is totally unlike anything in biology, for example in human brains, where no real distinction is made between memory and computation." Professor Wright believes the team's study demonstrates that phase change materials can store and process information simultaneously and shows, for the first time, that they can perform general purpose computing operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. "Most importantly, it shows that phase change materials can be used to make artificial neurons and synapses," he said. "This means that an artificial system made entirely from phase change devices could potentially learn and process information in a similar way to our own brains. "Our findings have major implications for the development of entirely new forms of computing, including brain like computers. We have uncovered a technique for potentially developing new forms of brain like computer systems that could learn, adapt and change over time. This is something that researchers have been striving for over many years." The next stage in the team's research is to build systems of interconnected cells that can learn to perform simple tasks, such as the identification of certain objects and patterns.