Artificial intelligence (AI) has captured the world’s fascination due to its remarkable ability to process vast volumes of data swiftly and efficiently. However, the current AI systems predominantly rely on energy-intensive algorithms driven by artificial neural networks. These networks consume substantial energy, particularly when dealing with real-time data. But a new approach to machine intelligence is on the horizon.

Researchers have devised a groundbreaking method that transcends the conventional AI landscape. Instead of depending on artificial neural network software, they have pioneered the development of physical neural networks using silver nanowires, offering a remarkably efficient alternative.

Their silver nanowire neural networks possess the capability to learn on the fly, recognizing handwritten numbers and memorizing digit sequences. The research, conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Sydney and the University of California, Los Angeles, has been published in Nature Communications.

The Intricate Nanowire Network

Utilizing nanotechnology, the researchers created networks of silver nanowires, each approximately one-thousandth the width of a human hair. These nanowires naturally form a random network, resembling a pile of sticks in a game of pick-up sticks. Remarkably, this random network structure bears a striking resemblance to the complex neural networks found in the human brain.

The research falls within the realm of neuromorphic computing, a field that seeks to replicate brain-like functions of neurons and synapses within hardware. The silver nanowire networks exhibit brain-like behaviors in response to electrical signals. External electrical signals induce changes in how electricity is transmitted at the points where nanowires intersect, akin to the functioning of biological synapses.

A typical nanowire network can consist of tens of thousands of synapse-like intersections, facilitating the efficient processing and transmission of information carried by electrical signals.

Real-Time Learning and Adaptation

The study reveals that nanowire networks excel in processing signals that evolve with time, rendering them ideal for online machine learning. In contrast to traditional machine learning, which processes data in batches, online learning allows data to be introduced as a continuous stream over time.

With each new piece of data, the system learns and adapts in real-time, a trait in which humans excel but which current AI systems lack. The online learning approach facilitated by nanowire networks outperforms conventional batch-based learning in AI applications.

Batch learning demands substantial memory to process large datasets and often necessitates revisiting the same data multiple times to learn. This process consumes extensive computational resources and overall energy.

The online learning approach of the nanowire network requires less memory as data is continuously processed. Additionally, the network learns from each data sample only once, resulting in a significant reduction in energy consumption, making the process highly efficient.

Recognizing and Remembering Patterns

The researchers tested the nanowire network using the MNIST dataset, a benchmark image recognition task featuring handwritten digits. Greyscale pixel values in the images were translated into electrical signals and fed into the network.

After each digit sample, the network learned and enhanced its ability to recognize patterns, displaying real-time learning. Using the same learning method, the researchers tested the network’s memory capabilities with a task involving digit patterns, resembling the process of memorizing a phone number. The network effectively retained information about previous digits in the pattern.

These experiments underscore the network’s potential to emulate brain-like learning and memory. However, the full potential of neuromorphic nanowire networks remains untapped. The future holds exciting prospects for this innovative technology that has the potential to redefine machine intelligence.

By Impact Lab