IBM isn’t resting on its laurels as the newly-crowned second-most valuable technology company in the world.
Big Blue is working hard to make sure that the next decade is its biggest yet in computing advances, with projects in the works to create the world’s most powerful supercomputer and one with the same number of nodes as the human brain.
“Computer systems are becoming more bioinspired,” said John Kelly, IBM’s senior vice president and director of research at a briefing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Kelly pointed out that IBM’s famed WATSON artificial intelligence system, which this year went from beating human game-show champ Ken Jennings in Jeopardy to beginning to help health insurer WellPoint diagnose compex cases, “took up half the size of a room and required 85 kilowatts of electricity.”
“Each human brain runs on 20 watts of electricity,” he said, referring to low-end projections for how much energy the human brain requires to function on a consistent basis.
But now, IBM is working with DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, on a “cognitive computer” that would simulate the same number of neurons as the human brain, upwards of 100 billion, and would run on much less energy than WATSON. They expect to have the feat completed in 10 years time.
Kelly noted that DARPA and IBM had already collaborated on a project to create a computer that simulated the same number of neurons as a cat, but that project has received substantial criticism that the findings were overblown.
Earlier this year, the company announced it had managed to simulate 256
neurons on a single transistor, which it used to play “Pong.”
Still, IBM projects it will hit another milestone even sooner: Kelly said the company’s Sequoia supercomputer, which has been in development since at least 2009, will be completed this year and up in running in 2012.
The Sequoia is being developed for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a climate computing device. It is targeted to reach 20 petaflops, twice as fast as the current record holder, the Japanese K supercomputer.
Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), a former nuclear physicist who bested a prototype of WATSON, also attended the IBM event on Capitol Hill, praising the company for its efforts.
“I thank IBM for all they’ve done in fostering innovation,” Holt said.
“IBM has a rich history of inventing and adjusting to new technologies,” added Kelly, “We look at technology in two ways: continuous innovative improvements and distruptive innovations. We think it takes both to be successful long term.”