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Synthetic Brains

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Illustration of heads with brains.

The challenges to creating a synthetic brain are staggering. It must include hardware that emulates brain cells, their amazingly complex connectivity and a concept the researchers call 'plasticity,' which allows the artificial neurons to learn through experience and adapt to changes in their environment the way real neurons do. A synthetic brain may take decades to realize, but emulating pieces of the brain, such as a synthetic vision system, may be available quite soon.

Credit: Copyright 2009 Jupiter Images Corporation


The animation shows an artist's conception of a carbon nanotube synapse. The orange nanotubes are PMOS transistors (metal-oxide-field effect transistors with material containing an excess of holes) and the green nanotubes are NMOS transistors (metal-oxide-field effect transistors with material containing an excess of electrons). The red features are metallic interconnections and transistor gates, and the blue features are metallic interconnections.

Credit: Khushnood Irani and Alice Parker, University of Southern California


Photo of Alice Parker, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California.

Alice Parker, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California, is studying the feasibility of creating a synthetic brain. She believes carbon nanotubes are an ideal material to emulate brain function because their 3-D structure allows connectivity in all directions on all planes and because a carbon-based prosthesis is less likely to be rejected by the human body than one made from inorganic materials.

Credit: Diane Ainsworth

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