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A brain-scale neuromorphic supercomputer

Dec. 13, 2023.
2 min. read 2 Interactions

A neuromorphic system that emulates large networks of spiking neurons, rivaling the estimated rate of operations in the human brain

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Artist’s impression of neuromorphic supercomputer (credit: A. Angelica, DALL-E3)

Would it be possible one day to create a supercomputer capable of emulating networks at the scale of the human brain?

Yes. It’s called Deep South. And researchers from the International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems (ICNS) at Western Sydney University plan to have it operational by April 2024, they announced at this week’s 2023 ICNS NeuroEng Workshop.

Mimics biological processes, so less power required

DeepSouth uses a neuromorphic system that mimics biological processes, using hardware to efficiently emulate large networks of spiking neurons at 228 trillion synaptic operations per second—rivaling the estimated rate of operations in the human brain.

DeepSouth is purpose-built to operate like networks of neurons, so it will require less power and enable greater efficiencies, says CNS Director Professor André van Schaik. This contrasts with supercomputers optimized for more traditional computing loads, which are power-hungry.

“Progress in our understanding of how brains compute using neurons is hampered by our inability to simulate brain like networks at scale,” he said. “Simulating spiking neural networks on standard computers using graphics processing units (GPUs) and multicore central processing units (CPUs) is just too slow and power intensive. Our system will change that.”

Large-scale AI and other applications

“This platform will progress our understanding of the brain and develop brain-scale computing applications in diverse fields, including sensing, biomedical, robotics, space, and large-scale AI applications.”

Practically, this will lead to advances in smart devices, such as mobile phones, sensors for manufacturing and agriculture, and less power-hungry and smarter AI applications, he said. It will also enable a better understanding of how a healthy or diseased human brain works.

Western Sydney University’s ICNS team collaborated with partners across the neuromorphic field in developing this ground-breaking project, with researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, and University of Aachen, Germany.

The supercomputer is aptly named DeepSouth, paying homage to IBM’s TrueNorth system, which initiated efforts to build machines simulating large networks of spiking neurons, and Deep Blue, which was the first computer to become a world chess champion. The name is also a nod to its geographical location.

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