Researchers Create Artificial Synapses That Learn

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Researchers Create Artificial Synapses that Learn

Neuromorphic Computing

Researchers have created an artificial synapse memristors capable of learning autonomously. This discovery potentially opens the way to creating a network of synapses and hence intelligent systems requiring less time and energy than standard computers.

Researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Thales, and the Universities of Bordeaux, Paris-Sud, and Evry have reportedly developed an artificial synapse capable of learning autonomously. They were also able to model the device, which is essential for developing more complex circuits.

The research has been published in Nature Communications.

In the artist's impression of the electronic synapse above, the particles represent electrons circulating through oxide, by analogy with neurotransmitters in biological synapses. The flow of electrons depends on the oxide's ferroelectric domain structure, which is controlled by electric voltage pulses.

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One of the goals of biomimetics is to take inspiration from the functioning of the brain in order to design increasingly intelligent machines. This principle is already at work in information technology, in the form of the algorithms used for completing certain tasks, such as image recognition; this, for instance, is what Facebook uses to identify photos.

In standard computers today using Von Neumann architecture, the procedure consumes a lot of energy. Vincent Garcia (Unité mixte de physique CNRS/Thales) and his colleagues have just taken a step forward in this area by creating directly on a chip an artificial synapse that is capable of learning. They have also developed a physical model that explains this learning capacity. This discovery opens the way to creating a network of synapses and hence intelligent systems requiring less time and energy.

Our brain's learning process is linked to our synapses, which serve as connections between our neurons. The more the synapse is stimulated, the more the connection is reinforced and learning improved. Researchers took inspiration from this mechanism to design an artificial synapse, called a memristor.

This electronic nanocomponent consists of a thin ferroelectric layer sandwiched between two electrodes, and whose resistance can be tuned using voltage pulses similar to those in neurons. If the resistance is low the synaptic connection will be strong, and if the resistance is high the connection will be weak. This capacity to adapt its resistance enables the synapse to learn.

Although research focusing on these artificial synapses is being developed at many other laboratories, the functioning of these devices remained largely unknown. The researchers have succeeded, for the first time, in developing a physical model able to predict how they function. This understanding of the process will make it possible to create more complex systems, such as a series of artificial neurons interconnected by these memristors.

The work has been part of the ULPEC H2020 European project, and this discovery will be used for real-time shape recognition using an innovative camera where the pixels remain inactive, except when they see a change in the angle of vision. The data processing procedure will require less energy, and will take less time to detect the selected objects.


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