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Neurons could inspire next generation of

Saturday, July 24, 2010 18:20 IST


London: Scientists are studying the way nerve cells communicate - a step


that could inspire the next generation of computers.


Computer scientist Dr Thomas Wennekers from the University of Plymouth

and his colleagues are developing novel computers by mimicking the way neurons are
built and how they talk to each other.
Basing computers around neurons could lead to improvements in visual and audio
processing on computers. It might mean that computers learn to see or to hear in the
future rather than just rely on sensors.
As well as building computers, the researchers are also helping to improve
understanding of nerve cells and how they operate. While artificial neural networks
have been around for more than 50 years they typically do not copy real neurons very
By contrast, the project wants to model specific physiological features of the way that
neurons in one part of the brain communicate.
"We want to learn from biology to build future computers. The brain is much more
complex than the neural networks that have been implemented so far," the BBC
quoted Wennekers as saying.
The early work of the project has been collecting data about neurons and how they
are connected in one part of the brain.
The researchers are focusing on the laminar microcircuitry of the neocortex, which is
involved in higher brain functions such as seeing and hearing.
The data gathered has fed highly detailed simulations of groups of nerve cells as well
as microcircuits of neurons that are spread across larger scale structures such as the
visual cortex.
"We build pretty detailed models of the visual cortex and study specific properties of
the microcircuits. We're working out which aspects are crucial for certain functional
properties like object or word recognition," he said.

Wennekers said that there are hopes that the work will produce more than just
improved sensory networks.
"It might lead to smart components that are intelligent. They may have added
cognitive components such as memory and decision making," he said.