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Kwabena Boahen: How to build a super-efficient super-computer

Could new-age computer chips, modeled on the how the human brain works, empower a watershed for artificial intelligence? At least one expert has staked his career on it.

A tilt-shift photo of a computer chip with models of city skyscrapers on top

Tomorrow’s chips will be stacked, like the floors of the skyscrapers on a New York block. | Shutterstock/metamorworks

Bioengineer Kwabena Boahen builds highly efficient “neuromorphic” supercomputers modeled on the human brain.

He hopes they will drive the artificial intelligence future. He uses an analogy when describing the goal of his work: “It’s LA versus Manhattan.”

Boahen means structurally. Today’s chips are two dimensional — flat and spread out, like LA. Tomorrow’s chips will be stacked, like the floors of the skyscrapers on a New York block. In this analogy, the humans are the electrons shuffling data back and forth. The shorter distances they have to travel to work, and the more they can accomplish before traveling home, will drive profound leaps in energy efficiency. The consequences could not be greater. Boahen says that the lean chips he imagines could prove tens-of-thousands times less expensive to operate than today’s power hogs.

To learn how it works, listen in as Kwabena Boahen describes neuromorphic computing to fellow bioengineer Russ Altman in the latest episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast. Listen and subscribe here.