Supercomputer set to mimic human sight

June 13th, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 13 (IANS) ‘Roadrunner’, the world’s most powerful supercomputer that was unveiled last week, is all set to mimic extremely complex neurological processes. If successful, researchers believe they can study — in real time — the entire human visual cortex, arguably a human being’s most important sensory apparatus.

The ‘Roadrunner’ is a petaflop computer, with peta meaning a million-billion — that’s the number of calculations it is capable of performing per second.

In other words, according to researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico — who developed Roadrunner — it gives scientists the ability to quickly deflate mountainous problems into mere molehills.

Los Alamos and IBM researchers used three different computational codes this week to test the machine. One of them was dubbed “PetaVision.”

PetaVision models the human visual system-mimicking more than a billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses. Neurons are nerve cells that process information in the brain.

Neurons communicate with one another using synaptic connections, analogous to what transistors are in modern computer chips. Synapses store memories and play a vital role in learning.

Synapses set the scale for computations performed by the brain while undertaking such tasks as locomotion, hearing or vision. Because there are about a quadrillion synapses in the human brain, human cognition is a petaflop/s computational problem.

To date, computers have been unable to match human performance on such visual tasks as flawlessly detecting an oncoming automobile on the highway or distinguishing a friend from a stranger in a crowd of people. Roadrunner is now changing the game.

Los Alamos researchers used PetaVision to model more than a billion visual neurons surpassing the scale of one quadrillion computations a second. On Monday scientists used PetaVision to reach a new computing performance record of 1.144 petaflop/s.

The achievement throws open the door to eventually achieving human-like cognitive performance in electronic computers. PetaVision only requires single precision arithmetic.

“Roadrunner ushers in a new era for science at Los Alamos National Laboratory,” said Terry Wallace of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“Just a week after formal introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago.”

The ability to achieve human levels of cognitive performance on a digital computer could lead to important insights and revolutionary technological applications.

Such applications include “smart” cameras that can recognise danger or an autopilot system for automobiles that could take over for incapacitated drivers in complex situations such as navigating dense urban traffic.

Posted in Sci-Tech |