It’s plenty devious, but we still can’t get it to follow orders worth a damn

DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, is quietly creeping toward its goal of creating an artificial brain, though it does not bode well that the likely prime contractor experienced momentary brainlock today and published a celebratory news release while the deal remained unsealed. The premature announcement aside, DARPA’s talks with HRL Laboratories, a joint venture of Boeing and General Motors, apparently are almost complete, and barring a sudden shift, it looks like HRL will spearhead the effort to build a chip with the “function, size, and power consumption” of a cat’s cortex within the next 10 years (the Department of Strained Acronyms came up with the name of the initiative — the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics project, or SyNAPSE).

According to the news release, spotted by Wired’s Noah Shachtman before it was pulled, the goal is to build a chip with “neuroscience-inspired architecture that can address a wide range of cognitive abilities — perception, planning, decision making, and motor control.” “The first nine-month phase of the program will focus on designing, fabricating, and characterizing synaptic and neural elements and combining them into a high-density, interconnecting microelectronic ‘fabric,’ which will be incorporated into a more complex system-level fabric design,” according to the release. “In the following 15-month phase, HRL will combine the synaptic and neural elements to fabricate and demonstrate ‘cortical microcircuits’ that can model various lower-level brain functions and actually ‘learn’ by interacting with the environment.” Beyond that? “The follow-on phases of the project will create a technology that functions like the brain of a cat, which comprises 108 neurons and 1012 synapses,” said Dr. Narayan Srinivasa, SyNAPSE program manager, said. “The human brain has roughly 1011 neurons and 1015 synapses.”


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  • RedRat

    May I suggest that they aim a bit lower than the cat brain, perhaps model it on George Bush’s brain–many fewer neurons and synapses. Heck, an old 8080 or Z-80 chip would do.

  • Modeled on a cat? Do they realize that cats are the most efficient predators ever evolved? Forget Terminator. It’ll be “Catinator: Tasty Humans”. The last time the military got a bright idea, they created the Islamic Jihad. This time, they’re creating battle cats.

  • Blorble

    Boeing and GM? Neurons and microelectronics? What experience or credibility do EITHER Boeing or GM have in these areas? Sounds like an expensive (to the US taxpayer) boondoggle doomed to utter, dismal, complete failure.

  • George R.

    The Department of Strained Acronyms… I like it. SyNAPSE… not so much.

    So here’s a more appropriate and less strained name for the program – Cat Cortex Replacement Architechture Project or Cat CRAP for short.