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Ibm asci purple { November 19 2002 }

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World News

November 19, 2002

IBM starts work on computer to rival the human brain
By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent

THE first supercomputers to approach and even surpass the processing power of the human brain are to be built by IBM, under a £184 million contract announced by the US Government yesterday.

ASCI Purple and Blue Gene/L will be the fastest and most powerful machines built, with a combined capacity equal to the 500 best of today’s computers.

ASCI Purple, which will be built first and used to simulate nuclear tests, will be able to complete 100 thousand billion calculations per second — a speed known as 100 teraflops that some scientists say is comparable to the human brain.

Blue Gene/L, which has a broader range of functions and will be used by US Department of Energy’s three main laboratories, will be more powerful still, with a maximum speed of 360 teraflops.

The computers, which will be built by 2004, will lack the consciousness, intellect and capacity for thought of a brain, but will be equivalent in calculating speed and power. They have memories of at least two petabytes — equal to a billion books. Mike Nelson, IBM’s director of internet technology and strategy, said: “It is hard to quantify the power of a brain, but when you look at the raw processing power of these machines, you’re looking at figures in the same ballpark.”

The computers will not have artificial intelligence, and scientists remain many years away from building one that matches even the abilities of a simple mouse brain.

ASCI Purple will be built using 12,544 IBM Power5 microprocessors, the same chips that are used in Apple PCs and Nintendo games systems. It will have autonomic software, allowing it to monitor itself for hardware breakdowns or lack of capacity. Blue Gene/L will be able to map stars in three dimensions, analyse earthquakes, and help in oil exploration.

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