SyNAPSE is not a project DARPA undertook lightly. Many attempts at large-scale neuromorphic engineering have been made in the past. None met their goals. As such, SyNAPSE owes its existence to a number of recent game-changing developments. From HP Labs, the discovery of the memristor was one such keystone innovation. It took Greg Snider’s 2007 work in Nanotechnology, however, to establish memristors as a viable platform for the implementation of self-organizing recurrent neural networks.
After running through the Businessweek article posted by Max, I am equally excited and nervous. Anyone has to be excited over the prospect of a new computing paradigm, though honestly I’m not sure what that looks like yet. These sorts of articles claim that computers will look more like brains, which is all well and good, because brains tend to do dominate the “competition”, i.e. computers, at messy things like object recognition and speech recognition. Conversely (and obviously), computers tend to dominate tasks amenable to decomposition into easily formalizable sequential steps, e.g. chess or even eye surgery. So, maybe we know what Deep Blue looks like, but what on Earth would a computer expert in messy things, a messy computer if you’ll excuse the phrase, even look like? We all agree that computers stink at these messy things, and if they didn’t stink at them it would be a huge boon to, well, humankind. So let’s make the computers more like brains so they can do what brains do so well! But how do we make computers, both in terms of hardware and software, more like brains?