Nanowire Memristor Networks Form 'Brains'

Networks of nanowire memristors are being studied to see if it might be possible for such a network to mimic the way an organic brain works. Professor John Boland, Director of CRANN, a nanoscience institute, and a Professor in the School of Chemistry, has been awarded a 2.5 million euro research grant to study this effect. He has said that the research could result in computer networks that mimic the functions of the human brain and vastly improve on current computer capabilities such as facial recognition.

Nanowires, made of materials such as copper or silicon, are just a few atoms thick and can be readily engineered into networks. Researchers worldwide are investigating the possibility that nanowires hold the future of energy production (solar cells) and could deliver the next generation of computers.

Boland has discovered that exposing a random network of nanowires to stimuli like electricity, light and chemicals generates a chemical reaction at the junctions of the nanowires, corresponding to synapses in the brain. By controlling the stimuli, it is possible to harness these reactions to manipulate the connectivity within the network. This could eventually allow computations that mimic the functions of neurons — particularly the development of associative memory functions.

“This funding from the European Research Council allows me to continue my work to deliver the next generation of computing, which differs from the traditional digital approach, said Boland. “My research will create nanowire networks that have the potential to mimic aspects of the neurological functions of the human brain, which may revolutionize the performance of current day computers. It could be truly ground-breaking.”

(Nanowire memristor research video)

"Learning involves the firing of the right neurons in the right sequence. By engineering these artificial nanowires in the right ways we are able to make them fire in appropriate ways. And we're trying to understand if we can make them fire in ways that mimic the kind of firing inside the human brain."
-Professor John Boland, Director of CRANN.

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 Kurzweil AI.

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