The world’s largest supercomputer which can complete more than 200 million million actions per second has been switched on for the first time.
The £15 million ($19.5 million) computer, which is designed and built to work like a human brain, had its landmark one-millionth processor core fitted this week.
Dubbed the SpiNNaker machine, it can model more neurons in real time than any other machine on the planet.
The supercomputer will help scientists better understand how neurological diseases like Parkinson’s impact the brain.
Researchers at the University of Manchester spent more than 10 years constructing SpiNNaker.
Each of the computer’s chips has 100 million moving parts, and are designed to mimic the neurons of the human brain.
Project scientist Professor Steve Furber said: ‘SpiNNaker completely re-thinks the way conventional computers work.
‘We’ve essentially created a machine that works more like a brain than a traditional computer, which is extremely exciting.
‘The ultimate objective for the project has always been a million cores in a single computer for real time brain modelling applications, and we have now achieved it, which is fantastic.’
Biological neurons are basic brain cells present in the nervous system that communicate primarily by emitting ‘spikes’ of electrical energy.
Neuromorphic computing uses large scale computer systems containing electronic circuits to mimic these spikes in a machine.
SpiNNaker is unique because, unlike traditional computers, it doesn’t communicate by sending large amounts of information from point A to B via a standard network.
Instead it mimics the massively parallel communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of small amounts of information simultaneously to thousands of different destinations.
The computer’s creators eventually aim to model up to a billion biological neurons in real time and are now a step closer.
To give an idea of scale, a mouse brain consists of around 100 million neurons and the human brain is 1,000 times bigger than that.
One billion neurons is 1 per cent of the scale of the human brain, which consists of just under 100 billion brain cells, or neurons.
One of the computer’s core uses is to help neuroscientists better understand how our own brain works.
It does this by running extremely large scale real-time simulations which aren’t possible on other machines.
For example, SpiNNaker has been used to simulate high-level real-time processing in a range of isolated brain networks.
This includes an 80,000 neuron model of a segment of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that receives and processes information from the senses.
It also has simulated a region of the brain called the Basal Ganglia – an area affected in Parkinson’s disease, meaning it has massive potential for neurological breakthroughs in science such as pharmaceutical testing.