Neural computer will help tend nation’s nukes

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that Thursday it received a first-of-its-kind brain-inspired supercomputing platform.

The platform uses an IBM computer chip called TrueNorth, which will give the platform the ability to process the brain equivalent of 16 million neurons and four billion synapses.

The platform will operate on just 2.5 watts of power, which is the energy required to operate a hearing aid battery, It is much less than standard computer systems of today, lab officials said.

The new platform called IBM’s Neuromorphic System will explore new computing possibilities related to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s mission in stewarding the country’s nuclear weapons.

No longer does the U.S. do underground testing of nuclear weapons but it does use experiments and computer simulation in working with nuclear weapons, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory spokesman Don Johnston said.

The new and more powerful computer system will enhance the ability to work with the country’s nuclear weapons.

Lab officials said the new technology is fundamentally different than computer design of the past 70 years.

One TrueNorth processor contains 5.4 billion transistors that together create an array of 1 million digital neurons that talk to each other through 256 million electrical synapses. The processor uses 70 milliwatts of power, which is orders of magnitude less than conventional processors, lab officials said.

The $1 million contract between IBM and the lab will provide one TrueNorth chip and the ecosystem to create and program machines that mimic the brain’s abilities for action, perception and thinking.

The system will also include, among other things, a programming language, teaching curriculum and a library of algorithms, according to the lab.