A new type of computer that mimics the complex interactions in the human brain is being built by UK scientists.

The £1m machine, nicknamed the "brain box", will be constructed at the University of Manchester.

The first of its kind in the world, it will be used to help researchers engineer fail-safe electronics.

Professor Steve Furber, of the university school of computer science, said computer science had much to learn from biological systems.

"Our brains keep working despite frequent failures of their component neurons, and this ‘fault-tolerant’ characteristic is of great interest to engineers who wish to make computers more reliable," he explained.

In the brain, groups of neurons work together, producing bursts of activity called "spikes".

These spikes give rise to the characteristic brain wave patterns seen on an electroencephalogram (EEG) trace.

Presencia brain-computer inferface allows direct control over the user's environment The "brain box" will use large numbers of microprocessors to model the way networks of neurons interact.

"Our aim is to use the computer to understand better how the brain works at the level of spike patterns, and to see if biology can help us see how to build computer systems that continue functioning despite component failures," said Prof Furber.

Another function of the computer will be to help scientists understand how details of complex visual scenes are encoded by the brain.