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University's new £15m supercomputer could unlock secrets of human brain
JAY GORY, MANAGING EDITOR, science
A "human brain" supercomputer with 1 million processors has been switched on by British scientists for the first time. Built by Manchester University, the £15m "SpiNNAker" machine is able to complete more 200 million actions per second and has 100 million moving parts. Its creators hope that it will be able to "unlock some of the secrets of how the human brain works". Unlike traditional computers, it doesn’t communicate by sending large amounts of information from point A to B. Instead it mimics the communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of pulses - small amounts of information - simultaneously to thousands of different destinations. Scientists have simulated a region of the brain called the Basal Ganglia, an area affected in Parkinson's disease, raising hopes that it may have potential for neurological breakthroughs in future pharmaceutical testing.  Steve Furber, professor of computer engineering at Manchester University, said: "Big pharma companies have largely stopped investing in diseases of the brain because they don't have the models to develop the drugs. "We are trying to build the infrastructure upon which these models can be constructed." Professor Furber said that the technology powering this supercomputer, which acts like a brain rather than a machine, could help understand speech patterns and develop artificial intelligence. The computer's creators eventually plan to scale up to a billion biological neurons in real time, which would make it the equivalent of 1pc of the scale of the human brain.  The machine has been used to control a robot called SpOmnibot, which uses the system to interpret real-time information and navigate towards certain objects while ignoring others. read more
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