Education Session for US Senate & House
Neuromorphic engineering combines the architectural and computational principles of systems neuroscience with semiconductor electronics, with the aim of building efficient and compact devices that mimic the synaptic and neural machinery of the brain. Neuromorphic engineering promises extremely low energy consumptions, comparable to those of the nervous system. However, until now the neuromorphic approach has been restricted to relatively simple circuits and specialized functions, rendering elusive a direct comparison of their energy consumption to that used by conventional von Neumann digital machines solving real-world tasks. Here we show that a recent technology developed by IBM can be leveraged to realize neuromorphic circuits that operate as classifiers of complex real-world stimuli. These circuits emulate enough neurons to compete with state-of-the-art classifiers. We also show that the energy consumption of the IBM chip is typically 2 or more orders of magnitude lower than that of conventional digital machines when implementing classifiers with comparable performance. Moreover, the spike-based dynamics display a trade-off between integration time and accuracy, which naturally translates into algorithms that can be flexibly deployed for either fast and approximate classifications, or more accurate classifications at the mere expense of longer running times and higher energy costs. This work finally proves that the neuromorphic approach can be efficiently used in real-world applications and it has significant advantages over conventional digital devices when energy consumption is considered.