'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 ")

Illustris: The Next Generation Of Universe Simulation
'This digital device was ... A machine able literally to contain the Universe Itself...' - Stanislaw Lem, 1965.

Atomristors - Atomic Memristors - Using Thin Nanomaterials
'I could almost feel those little tunnel junction neuristors working, forming their own interconnections as I operated it.' - Robert Heinlein, 1966.

RNA-Based Biocomputing Device
Living things can sense and analyze complex signals in living cells.

Loihi Chip Mimics Human Brain's Neurons And Synapses
'You can hook a Thorsen tube into a control circuit... and the tube will "remember" what was done and can direct the operation...' - Robert Heinlein, 1956.


  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

Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?'

TMS Decreases Belief In God, Increases Belief In Immigrants
'... setting up the same currents, the same basic ideas, in them all.'

Loomo Mini Transporter Robot Companion You Ride On
'Slowly the [robot] horse raised its head, wiggled its ears, blinked twice, gave a tentative whinny.'

Soft Robotics - Now With 3D Printed Sensors!
'A series of chemelectric afferent nerve-analogues, which permitted it to gauge to an ounce the amount of pressure necessary to snap a bone...'

AI Tool Lynx Insight And The Cybernetic Newsroom
'The structure,... was once a great homeostatic newspaper, the New York Times. It printed itself directly below us...'

Espresso Telescope Searches For Exoplanets
'These instruments were the wonderful ones our astronomers had perfected.'

Dune Fans! Metal-Organic Frameworks Make Science Fiction Real
'Dew collectors,' he muttered, enchanted by the simple beauty of such a scheme.

Manned Maneuvering Unit From 1984
'The glittering little rocket bolted to the black iron behind him.'

Astronaut Gets Younger In Space
'So what we're looking for now is not an antibiotic - an anti-life drug - but an anti-agathic, an anti-death drug...'

Blockchain Used To Verify Election Results
'Any adult could punch into the phone his or her code, followed by a yes or no.'

IJOP Integrated Joint Operations Platform China's Minority Report?
'All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs...'

HushMe Bluetooth Device Reinvents The Hush-A-Phone
'Talking into a hush-a-phone which he had plugged into the telephone jack...'

Ultrathin Brain Needle Developed At MIT
Putting drugs into a selected cubic millimeter within the living brain.

Tesla Semi Truck Now At Work
Why wait? Tesla Semi now hard at work.

Illustris: The Next Generation Of Universe Simulation
'This digital device was ... A machine able literally to contain the Universe Itself...'

Scaly Yet Soft Robotic Snake
Love those robotic sneks.

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.