IBM's imitative neurons learn without human intervention - Accelerating cognitive computing applications

08/04/2016 - 16:51

IBM scientists have created randomly spiking neurons using phase-change materials to store and process data. This demonstration marks a significant step forward in the development of energy-efficient, ultra-dense integrated neuromorphic technologies for applications in cognitive computing.

Inspired by the way the biological brain functions, scientists have theorized for decades that it should be possible to imitate the versatile computational capabilities of large populations of neurons.


Ref: Stochastic phase-change neurons. Nature Nanotechnology (2016) | DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.70


Artificial neuromorphic systems based on populations of spiking neurons are an indispensable tool in understanding the human brain and in constructing neuromimetic computational systems. To reach areal and power efficiencies comparable to those seen in biological systems, electroionics-based and phase-change-based memristive devices have been explored as nanoscale counterparts of synapses. However, progress on scalable realizations of neurons has so far been limited. Here, we show that chalcogenide-based phase-change materials can be used to create an artificial neuron in which the membrane potential is represented by the phase configuration of the nanoscale phase-change device. By exploiting the physics of reversible amorphous-to-crystal phase transitions, we show that the temporal integration of postsynaptic potentials can be achieved on a nanosecond timescale. Moreover, we show that this is inherently stochastic because of the melt-quench-induced reconfiguration of the atomic structure occurring when the neuron is reset. We demonstrate the use of these phase-change neurons, and their populations, in the detection of temporal correlations in parallel data streams and in sub-Nyquist representation of high-bandwidth signals.

Ref: All-memristive neuromorphic computing with level-tuned neurons. Nanotechnology (26 July 2016) | DOI: 10.1088/0957-4484/27/35/355205 | PDF (Open Access)


In the new era of cognitive computing, systems will be able to learn and interact with the environment in ways that will drastically enhance the capabilities of current processors, especially in extracting knowledge from vast amount of data obtained from many sources. Brain-inspired neuromorphic computing systems increasingly attract research interest as an alternative to the classical von Neumann processor architecture, mainly because of the coexistence of memory and processing units. In these systems, the basic components are neurons interconnected by synapses. The neurons, based on their nonlinear dynamics, generate spikes that provide the main communication mechanism. The computational tasks are distributed across the neural network, where synapses implement both the memory and the computational units, by means of learning mechanisms such as spike-timing-dependent plasticity. In this work, we present an all-memristive neuromorphic architecture comprising neurons and synapses realized by using the physical properties and state dynamics of phase-change memristors. The architecture employs a novel concept of interconnecting the neurons in the same layer, resulting in level-tuned neuronal characteristics that preferentially process input information. We demonstrate the proposed architecture in the tasks of unsupervised learning and detection of multiple temporal correlations in parallel input streams. The efficiency of the neuromorphic architecture along with the homogenous neuro-synaptic dynamics implemented with nanoscale phase-change memristors represent a significant step towards the development of ultrahigh-density neuromorphic co-processors.