As I watch my cat bat a piece of foil across the floor or stare at nothing like he's stoned, I can't help thinking, "Gee I wish my computer was as smart as my cat." Scientists at IBM also thought it would be fun to have a computer as intelligent as a feline, so the jokesters created a computer that thinks like a cat.
Using 147,456 processors (compared to your computer, which uses one or two processors) and 144 terabytes of main memory (100,000 times as much as your computer), the scientists simulated a cat's cerebral cortex. IBM researchers have previously simulated about 40 percent of a mouse's brain and a rat's full brain. (If you're worried, the AP reports that IBM will not be producing a race of robocats. Whew.)
The computer thinks about 100 times slower than a cat, but it forms thoughts the way a cat does.
The computer looked at logos and figured out what the images were. Different parts of the computer worked together much like a brain would when trying to understand something. This gave scientists an opportunity to watch how a living brain produces thoughts—no one has seen how the one billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses in cat's brain work together.
Scientists want to make a computer that thinks more like the human brain, too. Computers easily process data, but cannot reason with abstraction like the human brain. If these researchers make a computer that thinks more like a living brain, they predict they could learn more about everything from medicine to economics. Don't worry about this development leading to a computer like Hal. The technology isn't powerful enough to create a computer that thinks like the human brain. (Yet.)
[Image courtesy of Cats in Clothes.]