A new IBM chip could see a day when robots match human computational thinking.

Humans draw conclusions about their world every day, perform computations in their heads that take a matter of seconds (or less), but computers haven’t been as adept with calculations at human speed. That’s all about to change.

IBM has developed a processor chip (dubbed TrueNorth) that can perform calculations and computations at a faster speed than today’s graphics processors and microprocessors. With the complexity of the brain of a bee at 1 million “neurons,” TrueNorth has been built similar to the structure of the human brain and can organize data quickly when it sees a light growing brighter or dimmer, for example, or even when it sees a human crossing the street. The TrueNorth processor already outpaces current Intel processors: while Intel processors have 1.4 billion transistors, the IBM TrueNorth processor has 5.4 billion transistors – and consumes less energy than Intel processors (70 milliwatts for IBM TrueNorth as opposed to 35-140 watts of power for Intel processors).

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While the IBM TrueNorth processor consumes less energy, it still performs operations at the speed of current Intel processors (46 billion operations per second for TrueNorth, billions for Intel processors). Yet and still, the IBM TrueNorth processor gives hope that the history of processors and robotics will change as a result.

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Google’s consumed itself with building four-legged robots these days, and the new 8.5-by-11-inch “origami-folding” robots that can self-assemble and crawl away without human intervention make us hopeful that larger robots used for more complex daily tasks will be just as effective. If processors such as the IBM TrueNorth can start to perform human tasks at the same speed as humans, robotics will truly change the nature of life as we know it.

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Are you excited about processors gaining human computational capabilities, or do you think that advances in technology will replace the need of human manual labor in a number of societal fields?

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