'Neuristor' Acts Like Your Brain's Neurons

The computer you're using now to read this article makes use of binary switches which (as the name suggests) have only two states, on or off. The individual neurons of your brain, on the other hand, perform their function using a different model of activity. Neurons exhibit spikes of activity; information can be encoded in the pattern of spiking. HP researchers have created a hardware device comprised of "neuristors" that mimic this behavior:

The people at HP labs who have been working on memristors have figured out a combination of memristors and capacitors that can create a spiking output pattern. Although these spikes appear to be more regular than the ones produced by actual neurons, it might be possible to create versions that are a bit more variable than this one. And, more significantly, it should be possible to fabricate them in large numbers, possibly right on a silicon chip.

The key to making the devices is something called a Mott insulator. These are materials that would normally be able to conduct electricity, but are unable to because of interactions among their electrons. Critically, these interactions weaken with elevated temperatures. So, by heating a Mott insulator, it's possible to turn it into a conductor. In the case of the material used here, NbO2, the heat is supplied by resistance itself. By applying a voltage to the NbO2 in the device, it becomes a resistor, heats up, and, when it reaches a critical temperature, turns into a conductor, allowing current to flow through. But, given the chance to cool off, the device will return to its resistive state. Formally, this behavior is described as a memristor.

To get the sort of spiking behavior seen in a neuron, the authors turned to a simplified model of neurons based on the proteins that allow them to transmit electrical signals. When a neuron fires, sodium channels open, allowing ions to rush into a nerve cell, and changing the relative charges inside and outside its membrane. In response to these changes, potassium channels then open, allowing different ions out, and restoring the charge balance. That shuts the whole thing down, and allows various pumps to start restoring the initial ion balance.

In the authors' circuit, there were two units, one representing the sodium channels, the other the potassium channels. Each unit consisted of a capacitor (to allow it to build up charge) in parallel to a memristor (which allowed the charge to be released suddenly. In the proper arrangement, the combination produces spikes of activity as soon as a given voltage threshold is exceeded. The authors have termed this device a "neuristor."

"Neuristor" is a term coined by visionary computer science engineer Hewitt Crane in his PhD thesis in 1958. However, sf writers have made good use of the word. Robert Heinlein constructed the artificially intelligent computer Mycroft Holmes in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress out of neuristors. Roger Zelazny used the idea of a neuristor brain to great effect in his 1976 novella Home is the Hangman.

The earliest reference that I know about is the artificial, inorganic artificial brain from Edmond Hamilton's 1926 story The Metal Giants:

No doubt it was a startling proposition, to construct an artificial brain that would possess consciousness, memory, reasoning power...

...Detmold had attacked the problem from a different standpoint. It was his theory that the sensations of the nervous system are flashed to the brain as electric currents, or vibrations, and that it was the action of these vibratory currents on the brain-stuff that caused consciousness and thought. Thus, instead of trying to make simple, living cells and from them work up the complicated structure of the brain, he had constructed an organ, a brain, of metal, entirely inorganic and lifeless, yet whose atomic structure he claimed was analogous to the atomic structure of a living brain. He had then applied countless different electrical vibrations to this metallic brain-stuff, and finally announced that under vibrations of certain frequencies the organ had showed faint signs of consciousness.

Via Arstechnica; see also A scalable neuristor built with Mott memristors.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/6/2013)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )

Related News Stories - (" Computer ")

UK Internet Filters Default To 'Family-Friendly'
'People bought personalized filter programs...'- David Brin, 1990.

Living Slime Mold Builds Logical Circuits
Think of the fecundity of nature, countless molds in the floor of a forest. Think about how abundant bio-circuits could be.

First Commercial Artificial Brain?
'He had constructed an organ, a brain, of metal, entirely inorganic and lifeless...'- Edmond Hamilton, 1926.

AIREAL Lets You Feel Virtual Objects In The Open Air
'Startled, he touched his mouth. 'How the devil did you do that?' he shouted.'- Frederick Pohl, 1965.

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Augmented Reality Ship's Bridge From Rolls Royce
'... the immense, three-dimensional, minutely cubed model...'

Artificial Blood From Factories
This blood's for you.

Wrigley's Anti-Impotence Chewing Gum
'Chew one of these, Mr. Chip.'

Arcology Now Universal Constructor
'... the hotel direly wanted to exist.'

MisTable Fog Display Like SeaQuest DSV
Captain Bridger, a message is coming in.

Full-Size Invisibility Cloak Now Possible
'I donned it and drew its hood, and threw on its current.'

Bioengineered Muscle Grows In Mice
'Joeboys... shoulders bulging with grafted muscle.'

Self-Assembling Nanoparticles Move Like Tiny Gears
'Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically...'

PredPol Predicting Crime As It Happens
'All day long the idiots babbled...'

UK Internet Filters Default To 'Family-Friendly'
'People bought personalized filter programs...'

NASA Gives Away Rocket Code - For Dads
'The rocket thundered and leaped. The children danced in their hammocks, screaming.'

Automated Planet Finder Telescope Starts The Hunt
'I was near enough it now to set my automatic astronomical instruments to searching it for a habitable planet.'

Crabster CR200 Robot Prowls The Deep
'The handling-machine did not impress me as a machine, but as a crablike creature...'

Neither Dead Nor Alive - But Not In Suspended Animation
'...Can he be brought out of the cold-pack?'

Dolphin Whistle Translator
'Louis could hear the other translator discs whistling softly in Puppeteer, snarling quietly in the Hero's Tongue.'

Military Tech Inside Your Roomba?
What else can Roomba do?

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.