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Stanford researchers build a device for brain-inspired computing

Professor H.-S. Philip Wong, PhD, and his colleagues have developed a new device that emulates human synapses, which they believe might one day lead to brain simulators that could enhance our understanding of neuroscience. According to the Stanford Report:

In neuroscience, these two advantages are combined in a concept known as "synaptic plasticity," one of the leading theoretical foundations for how our brains learn, remember and compute.

Like transistor circuits, neurons and synapses are small and packed tightly together, but their circuitry is based on the varying strength of the synapses. The repetition of electrochemical signals traveling the same path will reinforce the synapses in the path and make them more or less likely to fire in the future. As neuroscientists like to say, "Neurons that fire together, wire together.

...The Stanford team's device emulates synaptic plasticity using a technology known as "phase-change material," the same technology that allows DVDs and CDs to store information. When juiced with electricity, these materials change their physical characteristics and therefore their electrical conductivity in tiny increments – more electricity, more change.

Rather than the two states of a transistor, however, the Stanford team has demonstrated an ability to control the synaptic device in 1 percent increments – like a lightbulb on a dimmer – meaning each phase-change synapse can convey at least 100 values.

The team's work was reported in the journal Nano Letters.

Photo by L.A. Cicero

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