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Scientists plan to develop new AI hardware capable of ‘thinking' like a human brain

A new generation of artificial intelligence which mimics the neural processes of the human brain is being developed by an international team of scientists.

This project, led by Loughborough University, will combine the expertise of physicists, biologists, chemists, neuroscientists and artificial intelligence (AI) specialists and aims to create human-like ‘thinking' hardware.

Experts from the School of Science have received a £965,568 grant from the EPSRC to fund the project which aims to understand how to replicate biological neural networks with electronic chips.

It will be the first system of its kind and will be capable of reproducing the brain's ability to distinguish between fast moving objects, animals and people, as well as express short statements of recognition, such as, 'it was a car moving left not right'.

Principal investigator Professor Sergey Saveliev, of the School of Science, said: "Although modern computers significantly outperform the human brain when it comes to numeracy, they still cannot handle tasks requiring guesswork and intuition.

"But using circuits with memristors will allow computers to learn things just as we do.

"It will also help us understand whether the brain can be completely reduced to a biologically-wired electric circuit, or whether our brains have something beyond simple electric and chemical functionalities."

The research is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts, the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, A&M Texas University, and ARM – a British computing and technology company.

The team plans to develop a prototype chip made of memristors – electrical components that control the flow of a current in a circuit, like a resistor, but are able to remember charges which pass through.

The design will give the system the ability to learn and recognise in a faster, cheaper and more energy efficient way than traditional software-driven AI systems.

Prof Saveliev said: “Most of the computer hardware we use is made up of a CPU [central processing unit] and memory, and so computation takes place in two separate places inside a machine – that's very different to our brain.

"We should have a system which is much more like the brain, where processing and storage are in exactly the same place.

"Using Loughborough's expertise in solid state physics, functional materials, thin films, modelling, and AI, we intend to develop a prototype of a memristive neuromorphic chipset able to analyse image-streams and to make decisions and choices in the same place – mimicking neural process in a brain cortex.”

Prof Saveliev's co-investigators are physicists Dr Pavel Borisov and Dr Mike Cropper, Professor Upul Wijayantha from Chemistry, and Professor Eran Edirisinghe from Computer Science.

Dean of the School of Science Professor Claudia Eberlein said: "Getting this grant is a major success for the School of Science and for Loughborough University.

"It shows the exceptionally high standard of our research.

"It is particularly exciting as this is a truly interdisciplinary project at the forefront of current research in the emerging field of neuromemristive systems."

The team will work with world-leading experts in memristor technology, neuroscience and neuromorphic computing: Professor Stanley Williams from Texas A&M University, Professor Joshua Yang and Professor Qiangfei Xia from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dr Sergey Gepshtein and Professor Thomas Albright from Salk, and Dr Viacheslav Chesnokov from ARM.

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 19/66

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Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2019 QS World University Rankings, University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019 and top in the country for its student experience in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 4th in the Guardian University League Table 2019, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019 and 8th in The UK Complete University Guide 2020.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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