DARPA Awards $21 Million to “Thinking Chip” Project

IBM unveils chips that mimic the human brain

by Stuart Sumner
Computing.co.uk
August 18, 2011

IBM has unveiled a new experimental computer chip that it says mimics the human brain in that it perceives, acts and even thinks.

It terms the machines built with these chips “cognitive computers”, claiming that they are able to learn through experience, find patterns, generate ideas and understand the outcomes.

In building this new generation of chip, IBM combined principles of nanoscience, neuroscience and supercomputing.

It has been awarded $21m (£12.7m) of new funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for the next phase of the project, which it terms “Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics” (SyNAPSE).

“This is a major initiative to move beyond the von Neumann paradigm that has been ruling computer architecture for more than half a century,” said Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research.

Modha added that the chip may see applications in business, science and government.

“Future applications of computing will increasingly demand functionality that is not efficiently delivered by the traditional architecture.

“These chips are another significant step in the evolution of computers from calculators to learning systems, signalling the beginning of a new generation of computers and their applications in business, science and government.”

IBM states that the chips, while certainly not biological, are inspired by the architecture of the human brain in their design. Digital silicon circuits make up what it terms the “neurosynaptic core”.

The scientists have built two working prototype designs. Both cores contain 256 neurons, one with 262,144 programmable synapses and the other with 65,536 learning synapses. The team has successfully demonstrated simple applications like navigation, machine vision, pattern recognition, associative memory and classification.

But what are the potential real-world applications of this technology? Tsunami warnings for one, claims IBM:

“A cognitive computing system monitoring the world’s water supply could contain a network of sensors and actuators that constantly record and report metrics such as temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics and ocean tide, and issue tsunami warnings based on its decision making,” said IBM in a statement.

Going slightly more Minority Report, IBM goes on to suggest an instrumented glove that a grocer could use to flag bad or contaminated produce.

On a more practical note, IBM has said that this technology could result in computers that take up far less space and use less power than those in use today.

Finding the ‘Cure’ for the ‘Cyber Epidemic’

By Tom Burghardt

As the “War on Terror” morphs into a multiyear, multitrillion dollar blood-soaked adventure to secure advantage over imperialism’s geopolitical rivals (and steal other people’s resources in the process), hitting the corporate “sweet spot,” now as during the golden days of the Cold War, is as American as a preemptive war and the “pack of lies” that launch them.

Always inventive when it comes to ginning-up a profitable panic, U.S. defense and security grifters have rolled-out a product line guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of everyone: a “cyber epidemic”!

This one has it all: hordes of crazed “communist” Chinese hackers poised to bring down the power grid; swarthy armies of al-Qaeda fanatics who “hate us for our freedom;” “trusted insiders” who do us harm by leaking “sensitive information,” i.e. bringing evidence of war crimes and corporate malfeasance to light by spilling the beans to secrecy-shredding web sites like WikiLeaks, Public Intelligence and Cryptome.

And to combat this latest threat to public order, the Pentagon’s geek squad, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have launched several new initiatives.

Armed with catchy acronyms like SMITE, for “Suspected Malicious Insider Threat Elimination,” and a related program, CINDER, for “Cyber Insider Threat,” the agency’s masters hope to “greatly increase the accuracy, rate and speed with which insider threats are detected and impede the ability of adversaries to operate undetected within government and military interest networks.”

Just another day in our collapsing American Empire!

During an Executive Leadership Conference last week in Williamsburg, Virginia, deep in the heart of the Military-Industrial-Security corridor, Bob Dix, vice president for U.S. government and critical infrastructure protection for Juniper Networks cautioned that the United States is facing a “cyber epidemic.”

According to Government Computer News, Dix told the contract-hungry hordes gathered at the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) conclave that “overall cyber defense isn’t strong enough.”

All the more reason then for the secret state to weaken encryption standards that might help protect individual users and critical infrastructure from malicious hacks and network intrusions, as the Obama administration will soon propose.

As I reported earlier this month, along with watering-down those standards, the administration is seeking authority from Congress that would force telecommunication companies to redesign their networks to more easily facilitate internet spying.

Add to the mix the recent “Memorandum of Agreement” between the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security that will usher in a “synchronization of current operational cybersecurity efforts,” and it’s a sure bet as I averred, that the Pentagon has come out on top in the intramural tussle within the security apparat.

During the ACT-IAC conference, greedily or lovingly sponsored (you make the call!) by “Platinum” angels AT&T, CACI, HP, Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin, Sherri Ramsay, the director of NSA’s Threat Operations Center, told the crowd: “Right now, we’re a soft target, we’re very easy.”

Dix chimed in: “Nothing we’re talking about today is new. What’s new is the threat is more severe.”

Music to the ears of all concerned I’m sure, considering the “cumulative market valued at $55 billion” over the next five years and the 6.2% annual growth rate in the “U.S. Federal Cybersecurity Market” that Market Research Media told us about.

Never mind that the number of “incidents of malicious cyber activity” targeting the Defense Department has actually decreased in 2010, as security journalist Noah Shachtman reported in Wired.

If we were inclined to believe Pentagon claims or those of “former intelligence officials” (we’re not) that the United States faces an “unprecedented threat” from imperial rivals, hackers and terrorists, then perhaps (just for the sake of argument, mind you) their overwrought assertions and fulsome pronouncements might have some merit.

After all, didn’t NSA and U.S. Cyber Command director, General Keith Alexander tell the U.S. Senate during confirmation hearings in April that he was “alarmed by the increase, especially this year” in the number of breaches of military networks?

And didn’t former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, currently a top executive with the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton firm, whose cyber portfolio is well-watered with taxpayer dollars, pen an alarmist screed in The Washington Post claiming that “the United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing”?

Not to be outdone in the panic department, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn warned in a recent piece in the Council On Foreign Relations flagship publication, Foreign Affairs, that “the frequency and sophistication of intrusions into U.S. military networks have increased exponentially,” and that “a rogue program operating silently, [is] poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary.”

Oh my!

However, as Shachtman points out, “according to statistics compiled by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission … the commission notes in a draft report on China and the internet, ‘2010 could be the first year in a decade in which the quantity of logged events declines’.”

Better hush that up quick or else those government contractors “specializing in the most attractive niche segments of the market” as Washington Technology averred earlier this month, might see the all-important price per share drop, a real national crisis!

Panic sells however, and once the terms of the debate have been set by interested parties out to feather their nests well, it’s off to the races!

After all as Defense Systems reported, “as cyberspace gains momentum the military must adjust its approach in order to take on an increasingly high-tech adversary.”

Indeed, Major General Ed Bolton, the Air Force point man heading up cyber and space operations thundered during a recent meet-and-greet organized by the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association at the Sheraton Premier in McClean, Virginia that “we are a nation at war, and cyberspace is a warfighting domain.”

Along these lines the Air Force and CYBERCOM are working out “the policy, doctrine and strategies” that will enable our high-tech warriors to integrate cyber “in combat, operation plans and exercises,” Bolton explained.

And according to Brigadier General Ian Dickinson, Space Command’s CIO, industry will “help the military take on an evolving war strategy–and [close] a gap between traditional and cyber-era defense,” Defense Systems informed us.

“That’s something we worry about,” Space Command’s Col. Kim Crider told AFCEA, perhaps over squab and a lobster tail or two, “integrating our non-kinetic capabilities with space operations.”

“We think it’s a good opportunity to partner with industry to develop and integrate these capabilities,” Crider said, contemplating perhaps his employment opportunities after retiring from national service.

And why not, considering that AFCEA’s board of directors are chock-a-block with executives from cyberfightin’ firms like Booz Allen, SAIC, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Dynamics.

Perhaps too, the generals and full bird colonels on the Sheraton dais need reminding that “integrating our non-kinetic capabilities with space operations,” has already been a matter of considerable import to U.S. Strategic Command’s Gen. Kevin Chilton.

In 2009, the STRATCOM commander informed us that “the White House retains the option to respond with physical force–potentially even using nuclear weapons–if a foreign entity conducts a disabling cyber attack against U.S. computer networks.”

That would certainly up the ante a notch or two!

Chilton said, “I think you don’t take any response options off the table from an attack on the United States of America,” Global Security Newswire reported. “Why would we constrain ourselves on how we respond?”

Judging by the way the U.S. imperial war machine conducts itself in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s no reason that the general’s bellicose rhetoric shouldn’t be taken seriously.

“I think that’s been our policy on any attack on the United States of America,” Chilton said. “And I don’t see any reason to treat cyber any differently. I mean, why would we tie the president’s hands? I can’t. It’s up to the president to decide.”

Even short of nuclear war a full-on cyber attack on an adversary’s infrastructure could have unintended consequences that would boomerang on anyone foolish enough to unleash military-grade computer worms and viruses.

All the more reason then to classify everything and move towards transforming the internet and electronic communications in general into a “warfighting domain” lorded-over by the Pentagon and America’s alphabet-soup intelligence agencies.

As The Washington Post reported on September 29, the secret state announced that “it had spent $80.1 billion on intelligence activities over the past 12 months.”

According to the Post, the “National Intelligence Program, run by the CIA and other agencies that report to the Director of National Intelligence, cost $53.1 billion in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, while the Military Intelligence Program cost an additional $27 billion.”

By comparison, the total spent by America’s shadow warriors exceeds Russia’s entire military budget.

Despite releasing the budget figures, the Office of Director and National Intelligence and Defense Department officials refused to disclose any program details.

What percentage goes towards National Security Agency “black” programs, including those illegally targeting the communications of the American people are, like torture and assassination operations, closely guarded state secrets.

And with calls for more cash to “inoculate” the American body politic against a looming “cyber epidemic,” the right to privacy, civil liberties and dissent, are soon destined to be little more than quaint relics of our former republic.

As security expert Bruce Schneier points out “we surely need to improve cybersecurity.” However, “words have meaning, and metaphors matter.”

“If we frame the debate in terms of war” Schneier writes, “we reinforce the notion that we’re helpless–what person or organization can defend itself in a war?–and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime.”

As well, using catchy disease metaphors like “epidemic” to describe challenges posed by high-tech espionage and cyber crime evoke disturbing parallels to totalitarian states of the past.

Such formulas are all the more dangerous when the “antibodies” proposed by powerful military and corporate centers of power will be deployed with little in the way of democratic oversight and control and are concealed from the public behind veils of “national security” and “proprietary business information.”