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Next-generation computer chips based on macaque brain?

Image of connectivity of a cognitive computer based on the macaque brain.
A monkey for a computer brain anyone? Image courtesy International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge.

Public votes for the winners of the National Science Foundation (NSF) International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge of 2012 have recently closed. One of the entrants that caught our attention is, unsurprisingly, computer related. It shows the connectivity of a cognitive computer based on the macaque brain - yes a monkey's brain. It may bring us one step boldly closer to bio-neural gel packs as seen in Star Trek's Voyager Intrepid-class starship - inner-geek joy.

The NSF competition has been running for about 10 years and showcases the most beautiful and engaging visualizations in the fields of science, engineering, and technology. There are five categories: photography, illustration, posters & graphics, games & apps, and video.

Computer monkey

Emmett McQuinn, a hardware engineer from IBM Research, Almaden, California US, is credited with creating the visualization of a network's hierarchical layout or wiring diagram, comprised of 4,173 neuro-synaptic cores, representing the 77 largest regions in a Macaque's brain.

The visualization is a computer core-to-core connectivity graph, with each core represented as an individual point on the ring. There are 320,749 connections between the 77 brain regions. Arcs are drawn from a source core to a destination core.

This model of the connective patterns, organization, and function of the mammalian brain will help guide development of neuro-synaptic computer chips. It shows how to connect many chips in a large brain-like network in a non-mathematical and non-statistical way.

Data of the non-human primate brain is represented by the open source CoCoMac database, which contains almost all available information on macaque brain connectivity, developed by the late neuroscientist Rolf K├Âtter, who passed away on 9 June 2010.

Computing may steal the visualization show

Although a select group of judges will choose the winners of the NSF visualization challenge, the winning visualization, based on the most public votes at the time of publishing, is a game called UNTANGLED, developed by researchers at the University of North Texas, US.

This human fertilization video is specifically intended for students. Image courtesy Nucleus Medical Media.

It selects the best game strategies by human players to address engineering problems such as the design of more efficient and powerful computer circuitry on portable devices. Human players move around compact arrangements of elements on a 2D game grid, which are actually layouts of application cores on real-world architectures that could become a chip in a phone or health-monitoring system. The narrator of the UNTANGLED game demo says people benefit from playing by thinking in new ways, which is described as computational thinking.

Winning entries for the visualization challenge for 2012 will be announced in February 2013 by the journal Science. Personally, my favourite is the CGI human fertilization video by Nucleus Medical Media - a fresh take on the epic journey of loss, struggle, and success. On their entry page it says their target audience are, "specifically students, those who intended to be or are pregnant."

- Adrian Giordani

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