yearly archives: 2010

  • Franken-bot comes to life (for less $$$ than an iPad)

    By Sean Lorenz | December 28, 2010

    Written by: Sean Patrick
    Class Participants:
    Aaron Berliner, Ben Chandler, Byron Galbraith, Sean Lorenz, Sam Michalka, Sean Patrick, Jeremy Wurbs

    Robots are strong. Robots are delicate. They’re even glamorous. But can you build one?

    Actually, yes - you can. And you can do it without breaking the bank, too.

    These days, there are plenty of commercial robotics kits available to hobbyists, requiring varying degrees of skill to build and operate. If you’re willing to commit a few hundred dollars exclusively to building robots, they’re great. If you’re not already a robot fanatic, though, you’re probably a little hesitant about spending that much money on something that - let’s face it - will probably spend the majority of its life in the attic. But what if you could build a robot out of stuff that you already own or, failing that, stuff you won’t regret buying? Read the rest of this entry »

  • Python in Computational Neuroscience

    By Byron Galbraith | December 20, 2010

    Python ( is a programming language that has gained a significant amount of traction in the scientific computing community over the last few years. It combines the rapid prototyping and expressiveness of MATLAB with the power and object-oriented nature of C++ or Java. In the fields of Computational Neuroscience and Neuroinformatics, Python has seen its star rise especially fast. The journal Frontiers in Neuroinformatics dedicated a special topics issue to Python in 2008, with papers from several tool developers and integrators. At the recent 2010 SfN meeting in San Diego, a workshop was devoted to current state of many of these tools and initiatives with no sign that the pace is slowing down. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Memristors – a revolutionary research field

    By Shahar Kvatinsky | December 19, 2010

    In 1971, Prof. Leon Chua from UC Berkeley published an article about the memristor, a fourth passive element in electronics (in addition to resistor, capacitor and inductor). Since Chua's article, memristors have become an exciting device that potentially can revolutionize the electronic industry. Chua predicted, only because of symmetry reasons, that there is a missing passive element, whose main characteristic is a relationship between flux (the total voltage being applied on it) and electric charge (the total current that had flown through it). Such a device actually acts as a resistor, but unlike the conventional resistor, its resistance is not constant, nor depends upon the temporary voltage being applied to it (as is the case for non-linear resistors). Read the rest of this entry »

  • Why is neuromorphic computing important?

    By Ben Chandler | December 7, 2010

    This is the second post in a series of responses to comments from our IEEE Spectrum article. You can read the announcement here or the first response here.

    In response to "Who will win the artificial brain race?", fellow editor Jeff Markowitz raised a particularly challenging point:

    We’ve all assumed that an artificial brain of sorts can be useful for industrial or military applications, e.g. things like spatial navigation and object recognition. Why do we think that? Because humans/rats/mammals are so incredibly good at these things? Must we take for granted that replicating biological intelligence is as good as we can do?

    as well as this question:

    The why is what concerns me the most. Is this somewhat akin to the international space station? That is, because the engineering problem is so hard and the solution is so cool, people assume that its utility is self-evident. I mean, it’s a freaking SPACE STATION!

    Our mission is intelligent machines that are suitable for real-world applications. We want to build an airplane, not a highly accurate reproduction of a bird wing. In this context the utility of neuromorphic computing isn't at all self-evident, but a number of converging trends suggest that biology may have a whole lot to teach us about computation. Ultimately, the driving force is energy.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • MoNETA and “the C word”

    By Sean Lorenz | December 7, 2010

    By Sean Lorenz, Heather Ames & Massimiliano Versace

    After the IEEE Spectrum article on MoNETA was released, a number of websites and blogs picked up the story. Many of the comments on these sites express passionate opinions spanning a wide swath of targets – memristors, Moore’s Law, the state of current AI, among other science-specific inquiries. There is one topic, however, that has made the Slashdot comments section go into the triple digits. Most neuroscientists I know refer to it simply as “the C word”…yep, consciousness. Gasp!

    You bring up “the C word” to any tenured neuroscientist and he or she will chuckle, turn on the pedantic tone of voice, and say something like: “No self-respecting scientist can attempt to study things like consciousness. It’s a waste of time; leave those petty issues to the philosophers!” The MoNETA project has opened up a new can of worms with regards to artificial consciousness and rightfully so. The BU team working on MoNETA has also thought extensively about the dreaded C word with relation to neuromorphic chip technology, which is why Max Versace, Heather Ames, and I wrote a paper about it (and later presented our ideas at the 2010 Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference on Consciousness). Here is the original paper, “Consciousness and Neuromorphic Chips: A Case for Embodiment,” in its entirety. If you'd rather watch it in video form, just scroll down to the bottom and your wishes will be granted. Read the rest of this entry »

  • MoNETA IEEE article: a summary until now

    By Massimiliano Versace | December 5, 2010

    The online version of the IEEE Spectrum article describing our work on the MoNETA project (withing the DARPA SyNAPSE grant) has been out for a bit more than a week, and the story is starting to generate many comments and being picked up by blogs and magazines (see Slashdot and Popular Science). May be it's time to summarize what is happening, and starting to address the many comments related to the article. Ben and I will start a series of posts on the topic, this one being the first. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Who will will the artificial brain race?

    By Massimiliano Versace | December 3, 2010

    Who will be the first to build truly intelligent machines? Would it be a lonely investigator, a modern days Darwin that, in perfect isolation, would sail back from her/his neuroscientific Galapagos with the great truth, or... Read the rest of this entry »

  • Neurdons on IEEE Spectrum cover page!

    By Massimiliano Versace | November 23, 2010

    December won't be a boring month for Neurdons. Two of us (who is writing, and Ben Chandler) will be featured in the cover page, back page story, and in an article title "MoNETA: A Mind Made from Memristors. DARPA's new memristor-based approach to AI consists of a chip that mimics how neurons process information" on the December issue of IEEE Spectrum. The preview of the article has appeared online. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Brain emulation road map … or not

    By Massimiliano Versace | November 22, 2010

    No, I am not going to argue that that somebody has figured out the brain road map to building a human-intelligence level chip. Actually, me and many of the people deeply involved in the endeavor of building software and hardware to emulate biological intelligence are too busy with the immense hurdles of getting even the most elementary levels of intelligence to work, that there is no time to speculate on when we will be done. Nevertheless.... Read the rest of this entry »

  • Flying surrogates?

    By Massimiliano Versace | November 9, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article titled "Drones Get Ready to Fly, Unseen, Into Everyday Life", a quick outlook on the emerging personal drones market. Until a few years ago, drones uniquely evoked images of war and destruction coming from the sky. The unmanned Predator craft of Central Intelligence Agency was a prime example: a remote-controlled craft armed with Hellfire missiles, widely used in Pakistan operations. This image is about to change drastically. Read the rest of this entry »