Electronics

Electronic memory may bring bionic brain one step closer

Electronic memory may bring bi...
Using memristors, scientists could be getting closer to developing bionic brains Shutterstock)
Using memristors, scientists could be getting closer to developing bionic brains Shutterstock)
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Using memristors, scientists could be getting closer to developing bionic brains Shutterstock)
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Using memristors, scientists could be getting closer to developing bionic brains Shutterstock)

Using a matrix of nano-sized memristors, researchersworking at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and theUniversity of California, Santa Barbara claim to have constructed the world’sfirst electronic memory cell that effectively mimics the analog process of thehuman brain. By storing memories as multiple threads of varying information,rather than a collection of ones and zeroes, scientists believe that thisdevice may prove to be the first step towards creating a completely artificial,bionic brain.

Working at the MicroNano Research Facility of RMIT, the researchersbelieve that the breakthrough not only carries them closer to reproducing keyaspects of the human brain electronically, but could also one day assist inproviding effective treatments for neurological conditions – such asAlzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases – by studying such diseases outside thebody using artificial brains. Eventually, even cybernetic implants couldconceivably be developed from this technology.

"This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system withmemory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrievingthis stored information," said Dr Sharath Sriram, co-leader of the RMITFunctional Materials and Microsystems Research Group."The human brain is anextremely complex analog computer … its evolution is based on its previousexperiences, and up until now this functionality has not been able to beadequately reproduced with digital technology."

The memristors (a contraction of the term "memory resistors") usedin the new device are electronic components whose electrical resistance is notconstant like standard resistors, but is determined by the history of theelectric current that has previously flowed through it. In other words, amemristor "remembers" the direction and magnitude of the electricityapplied to it. It is also non-volatile in that it retains that "memory" whilstturned off and does so until it has another electric charge applied. In thisway, memristors act like brain neurons because the information contained onthem is proportional – not simply "on" or "off" like binary computer data.

"We have now introduced controlled faults or defects in the oxide materialalong with the addition of metallic atoms, which unleashes the full potentialof the 'memristive' effect – where the memory element's behavior is dependenton its past experiences," says Dr. Hussein Nili, lead author of the study."The ability to create highly dense and ultra-fast analog memory cellspaves the way for imitating highly sophisticated biological neuralnetworks."

This current work exploits earlier research at RMIT, where ultra-thin filmoxide material 10,000 times thinner than a human hair was used to createNano-scale, ultra-fast memory components. These memory components now form thebasis of the analog storage device recently developed, and may be the forerunnerto the components required to emulate the complex artificial intelligencenetwork needed to eventually produce a bionic brain.

"This new discovery is significant as it allows the multi-state cell tostore and process information in the very same way that the brain does,"says Dr. Nili. "Think of an old camera which could only take pictures inblack and white. The same analogy applies here, rather than just black andwhite memories we now have memories in full color with shade, light andtexture, it is a major step."

Work by other researchers in this area, suchas that from scientists at Northwestern University, constantly increasesthe promising development of memristors as a possible electronic analog for thememory function of the human brain. Coupled with the new breakthrough from RMITand others, future artificial memory devices may also realize benefits in brainexperimentation for scientists to imitate the human brain so that there is norisk from invasive procedures working on a live animal or human.

"If you could replicate a brain outside the body, it would minimizeethical issues involved in treating and experimenting on the brain which canlead to better understanding of neurological conditions," says Dr. Nili.

The results of this research were recently published in the journal AdvancedFunctional Materials.

Source: RMIT

6 comments
Matt Fletcher
Interesting that it should be mentioned that if we could create a brain similar to the human brain and experiment on it we could minimize ethical issues because unlike other organs brains are perceived to be the center of our thoughts and feelings. So by creating a brain similar to a human's wouldn't you be putting it through extreme emotional stress. I hope what Dr. Nili meant was that he "wishes to study artificially made brain tissues to better understanding neurological conditions," otherwise this is very similar to ripping the brain out of a cat or dog and subjecting it to study while keeping it alive. I don't normally consider medical ethical questions but this is significantly.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This seems to be functionally the same as quantum computing.
dugnology
I graciously welcome our new robot overlords.
JoejustJoe
Humanity the new primordial soup for the next dominant lifeform.
Kristianna Thomas
In the universe of Star Trek Data has a positron brain, which makes his respond as if human, will the Bionic (man) brain makes robots that are close to its human counterpart? With a departure of the old ways comes a renewed sense of fear of the unknown, and t he luddites once destroyed the machines of industry at the beginning of the Industrial Age. We fear the things we understand the least; do we really fear the "rise of the machines; or are we just parroting the fears of others?
RenéLozi
The general theory of first, second, third order memristor, etc (first order memristors is the genuine memristor discovered by professor Leon O. Chua in 1971) is now completed (along with any order meminductor, memcapacitor) and published in an article I wrote with him, in International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos (IJBC) Issue September 2014. This paper is freely available on the site: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261676241_MEMFRACTANCE_A_MATHEMATICAL_PARADIGM_FOR_CIRCUIT_ELEMENTS_WITH_MEMORY The Old Ohm’s law is generalized and fitted to those memory elements.