We here at Inhabitat love DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) — they are the people behind plans for a transforming flying car, batteries that are smaller than grains of salt, and oh, they invented the Internet. Now, in parternship with IBM, DARPA is investing $21 million in a project to develop a series of experimental computer chips that will be designed to replicate the human brain’s perceptive, active and cognitive abilities.

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IBM have said in a statement that the “neurosynaptic” chips will “recreate the phenomena between spiking neurons and synapses in biological systems, such as the brain, through advanced algorithms and silicon circuitry.” This means the computer chips will function through complex, multi-sensory learning systems, known as cognitive computers, that behave more like human brains than calculators.

The principal investigator for the project is Dharmendra Modha, a researcher at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. The project is called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics, or SyNAPSE. The objective is to develop systems that will be able to learn through experiences, detect patterns and develop hypotheses, as well as remember and learn from the outcomes.

The news all has echoes of Terminator II: Judgement Day, especially with IBM and its partners saying the new systems will be able to rival the brain’s compact size and relatively low power usage. The team’s long-term goal is to build a system with 10 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses that is less than two liters in volume and consumes merely one kilowatt of power.

“This is a major initiative to move beyond the von Neumann paradigm that has been ruling computer architecture for more than half a century,” observes Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research. “Future applications of computing will increasingly demand functionality that is not efficiently delivered by the traditional architecture. These chips are another significant step in the evolution of computers from calculators to learning systems.”

We’re all for progress, but if there comes a day where our laptops try to kill us, then we’ve gone to far.

Click here to see a demonstration of the technology >