Saturday, November 21, 2009

IBM Biggest Brain Simulator in 2009

Three days ago, I read an article from IEEE Spectrum about IBM Brain Simulator. The following day, I read two articles about the brain simulator from the Smart Planet: the first focuses on the technology and the other concerns about what the future will be. Popular Mechanic also has an article about the brain modeling from IBM's Almaden research center compared to others from Stanford University and Neuroscience Institute in San Diego. IEEE Spectrum says that Europe also have similar project called Blue Brain, at EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The IBM Brain Simulator is featured in Supercomputing 2009 event in Portland, Oregon. This event is about high performance computing. So it is not about brain-computer interface (BCI) or brain robot. There is a possibility to combine BCI and this kind of brain simulator. Maybe I can participate in that kind of research.

There is a concern about the future about the relation between computers and humans. The second article from Smart Planet discussed this. A friend of mine, Mova Al'Afghani, put slides from Karl Fisch in his blog about future prediction, which says that in 2013, super computer will exceed human brain capability and in 2049, a $1000 computer will exceed the capability of entire human species. In 1999, Ray Kurzweil wrote a book: The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. In the book, it is predicted that in 2020, a $1000 computer will exceed human intelligence. So you know who makes the prediction. Ray Kurzweil also wrote another book: The Singularity is Near: When Human Trancends Biology. IBM said that in 2019, they can mimic human brain which has 20 billions neurons and 200 trillions synapses.

Singularity (in this context) means that the computer has reached human intelligence and capabilities. TV series Terminator SCC mentioned this singularities. Some people are afraid of this singularity and create Anti Skynet group. (Skynet is fictional "machine" in Terminator). The optimist people build Singularity University to prepare humanity for accelerating technological change.

This is the feature of IBM Biggest Brain Simulator:
  • uses Dawn, BlueGene/P supercomputer
  • uses C2 cortical simulator
  • funded by DARPA (U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)
  • spended 40 million US dollars
  • contains 147,456 processors
  • uses 147 TB of RAM
  • consumes 1.4 MW
  • uses 10 rows of racks (and miles of cables)
  • uses 6,675 tons of air-conditioning equipment spouting 2.7 million cubic feet of chilled air
  • uses a universal neural circuit called a microcolumn to mimic a single neuron.
  • exceed cat's brain capability
  • can simulate only human visual cortex capability
  • takes 500 seconds to simulate 5 seconds of real mammal's brain activity (in average).
One more interesting thing. With the same technology, to exceed human brain, the supercomputer will need between 100 MW and 1 GW. It takes a nuclear power plant for simulating only a single human brain. The real human brain takes only 20 watts.


  1. This is a very interesting post. Full of helpful details and well written. Thanks!