What is Neuromorphic Engineering? Mention Artificial Intelligence, and the only thing that people will think of is deep learning and its most common uses – chatbots, virtual assistants and virtual human agents.
Yet, deep learning is only one part of AI. The purpose of AI is to try and emulate the processes that define a human, and that means emulating how a human thinks. In other words, creating a more human-like AI.
Neuromorphic engineering refers to the creation of a system, usually a microchip, that mimics the nervous system of a human. As we know, the nervous system is the system of the body that coordinates the actions of the body by sending signals to and from different parts of the body.
Generally, we think of it as the brain sending a signal to another part of the body, like the hand, to control the hand. In neuromorphic engineering, it’s not just about replicating the structure of the brain but also about the mimicking of other parts of the nervous system such as the vision system and auditory system.
The importance of neuromorphic engineering cannot be overstated. Since the goal of the field is to mimic the human system, the technology is about replicating the adaptability of humans.
Consider how the human brain works, for example, if an individual suffers a stroke and is paralysed in the arm, the brain is in some cases with time able to reroute the commands needed to regain functionality in the arm by strengthening the synapses and neurons in the brain.
Besides usefulness in the field of medicine, in combination with the current advances in AI, neuromorphic engineering promises to speed up processes that currently rely on AI such as image recognition. It can also be used to increase the efficiency of deep learning AI.
The most exciting potential for neuromorphic engineering however, are the uses that attempt to replicate specific neuro systems that are not the brain. With this new field, it may become possible to predict tsunamis more accurately, allow the blind to receive sensory cues at a speed on par with the human visual system or even, at a basic level, lowering the energy required for running current processes.
Even with the pace at which new technologies are being developed, neuromorphic engineering is extremely new. As a new form of hardware, it is possible that there will be uses discovered that not even the inventors dreamed about.
What we do know, however, is that when the day comes that the hardware can perfectly replicate the human brain, that will be the day that virtual human agents will become as indistinguishable from a real human as possible,
And that is both a terrifying and exciting prospect. If you are interested in reading more about this topic from a thought-leader in the industry, read this interview with Dr Pierre Brunswick, CEO of Neuromem.