March 23, 2015
Researchers from Nanyang Technical University in Singapore have developed a microfiber technology that enables them to build brain-like computers. “Photonic synapses” are collections of microfibers that pass electronic signals. The optical fibers can send signals at the speed of light, much faster than the neurons in real brains. This breakthrough could provide a boost to both robotics and AI technology. Improved vehicle control, speech, and search are just some of the possible applications.
For the first time, machines will use a physical network of microfibers, instead of simulating brain synapse action through a von Neumann style program. Researchers will now have to work on getting computers to do the brain-like functions they are capable of achieving.
The photonic synapses are made out of a unique alloy with special optical properties. Researchers used gallium lanthanum oxysulphide (GLSO) to create the physical axons. These special fibers can be photodarkeneded by light, so the researchers used lights at different wavelengths to depolarize or hyperpolarize different parts of the axon. This process mimics the transmission of nerve impulses from an axon to a neuron.
The researchers’ photonic synapses are actually more advanced than the real synapses in the brain. Real axons in the brain do not receive that many synapses, but the man-made fiber ones could receive millions per second.
The fibers might even be able to send signals with less energy, according to ExtremeTech. Once researchers realize the full potential of this technology, a “runaway AI” that is even smarter than humans may become a real concern.