Researchers have built a synthetic synapse in work that could one day lead to a fully-functioning artificial brain.
A team at the University of California Viterbi has built a carbon nanotube synapse circuit whose behavior in tests reproduces the function of a neuron input, or synapse.
The work could lead to devices that could be used in brain prostheses – or that could be combined into massive networks of synthetic neurons to create an artificial brain.
"This is a necessary first step in the process. We wanted to answer the question: Can you build a circuit that would act like a neuron?" says Professor Alice Parker, who's been working on the problem since 2006.
"The next step is even more complex. How can we build structures out of these circuits that mimic the neuron, and eventually the function of the brain, which has 100 billion neurons and 10,000 synapses?”
The synapse her team created is simplified, and Parker says the actual development of a synthetic brain is decades away. The next stage, she says, is to reproduce brain plasticity in the circuits.
The human brain continually produces new neurons and adapts throughout life, and creating this process through analog circuits will be a major task. But, says Parker, the research could have long-term promise for everything from prosthetic nanotechnology that would heal traumatic brain injuries to intelligent, safer cars.