Scientists have marvelled at the computational power of the human brain for ages, but today, researchers went one step closer to creating a computer that would be able to operate 100 thousand times faster than a human brain.
Each human brain is made of about 86 billion cells called neurons, which interact through short electrical pulses, forming a basis of human cognition. Scientists spent decades trying to emulate this system, but hardware constraints resulted in the “brainlike” computers eventually failing.
According to a team of researchers from National Institute of Standards and Technology, the larger the computer chips become, the slower signal transmission goes, eventually reducing computation to a crawl.
The same team, however, came up with an elegant solution: instead of using electrical pulses, like a brain would, they designed a circuit board that uses photons, the smallest optical signal, to represent spikes in neuron interaction. This circuit is the first to behave just like a biological synapse, yet use a single photon for transmitting and receiving signals.
This system is especially important right now, as it is energy-efficient, requiring a single-photon detector and a special combination of superconductors, called the Josephson Junction. This new system allows electric pulses to accumulate until they merge into a superconducting loop, a behaviour very similar to biological synapses. In the human brain, this stored current is an equivalent of short-term memory.