Now, researchers at Stanford University and Sandia National Laboratories have made an advance that could help computers mimic one piece of the brain’s efficient design – an artificial version of the space over which neurons communicate, called a synapse.
The new artificial synapse, reported in the Feb. 20 issue of Nature Materials, mimics the way synapses in the brain learn through the signals that cross them. The artificial synapse, unlike most other versions of brain-like computing, also fulfills these two tasks simultaneously, and does so with substantial energy savings. Like a neural path in a brain being reinforced through learning, the researchers program the artificial synapse by discharging and recharging it repeatedly.
Only one artificial synapse has been produced but researchers at Sandia used 15,000 measurements from experiments on that synapse to simulate how an array of them would work in a neural network.
Whereas digital transistors can be in only two states, such as 0 and 1, the researchers successfully programmed 500 states in the artificial synapse, which is useful for neuron-type computation models.
The researchers are hopeful that they can attain neuron-level energy efficiency once they test the artificial synapse in smaller devices.