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IBM's next decade: the world's most powerful supercomputer, artificial human brain

IBM Watson
IBM Watson

Watson crushed Ken Jennings in Jeopardy, but that's apparently not good enough for IBM. Today, the company laid bare its goals for the next decade, and they're nothing if not ambitious: to create the world's most powerful supercomputer, and to create a computer simulating the human brain. The former task has been in development since 2009, and is scheduled to be finished in 2012. The computer will run at 20 petaflops — twice as fast as the K supercomputer, the current fastest computer on Earth and will be a "climate computing device" for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The artificial brain project is much more ambitious: IBM predicts it will spend 10 years developing a machine emulating the 100 billion-plus neurons and trillions of synapses, while getting closer to the power efficiency of the human brain (the human brain runs on 20 watts of electricity, and even Watson required 85 kilowatts). The key to the project is chips with neurosynaptic cores, which are designed like a human brain and use fewer transistors, instead relying on digital neurons and synapses that allow the computer to adapt and learn, all the while using far less power. The company's working with $41 million in funding from DARPA, and has gotten as far as building a computer that taught itself to play pong, but there's still a very long way to go. Building a computer that works and thinks like a human ought to be at least a decade's work for IBM, but when it's finished Ken Jennings won't even stand a chance.