Scientists working for IBM have programmed a supercomputer with a working simulation of a cat's brain.
In a paper presented at the Supercomputing 2009 conference, Dharmendra Modha, manager of cognitive computing for IBM Research, outlined how the team used a 147,456 processor supercomputer running 144TB of RAM to simulate a cat's cortex functions.
The simulation, which runs 100 times more slowly than an actual cat's thought processes, maps out the interaction of the synapses and neurons. The work offers new insights into how to build computers capable of the kind of non-linear functioning found in organic life.
In 2006 the team successfully simulated 40 per cent of a mouse's brain, and by 2007 extended this to a whole rat's brain. Using a bigger computer they also mapped out one per cent of a human brain.
However, Modha told the conference that, if processors continue at the current pace of development, it should be possible to simulate a human brain within a decade.
Jim Olds, a neuroscientist and director of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, told Associated Press that the new research is a "tremendous step".
"We have made tremendous advances in collecting data, but we do not have a collective theory yet for how this complex organ called the brain produces things such as Shakespeare's sonnets and Mozart's symphonies," he said.
"The holy grail for neuroscientists is to map activity from single nerve cells, which they know about, into how billions of nerve cells act in concert."
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