back to article DARPA shells out $21m for IBM cat brain chip

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is moving ahead with IBM in the third leg of its Synapse cat brain chip. That leaves one more leg, a tail, and nine lives to go. Because this is the military, the third leg of the Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (Synapse) project at DARPA is called …


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  1. Mike Wilson

    Was cat a good choice?

    If I wanted to simulate a brain to do something useful, I don't think I would choose cat. Will the US military get a (very) expensive new machine which which pukes on the carpet, kills small furry animals and sleeps 23 hours a day in the warmest spot it can find?

    1. Gerhard den Hollander

      Cat was an excellent choice

      Just wait till they get a quantum computer ...

      then they can simulate schroedinger's cat's brain

      1. Dan 10

        Great idea!

        Does that mean they will be able to ask it if it is alive or dead without actually checking?!

    2. Crazy Operations Guy

      Obviously you haven't working in the high ranks of government

      A computer would cost them a lot less than the bureaucrats that already do that.

    3. Brian Miller

      Share and Enjoy

      This is actually the start of the Sirius Cybernetics Corp. and explains the corporate theme song perfectly.

    4. Dagg Silver badge

      Yes for IBM

      Just think, a cat will never do what you want it just does it's own thing. It just means that IBM doesn't need to try very hard to create a cat brain as it doesn't need to do anything useful.

      A Dog on the other hand would be useful, seeing eye, bomb detection, drug detection etc...

    5. Graham Wilson

      @Mike Wilson -- Nothing wrong with cats.

      Nothing wrong with cats.

      Remember cats already have servants, dogs only masters!

  2. Adrian Jones

    I wonder.

    Has Charles Stross trademarked Aineko?

    1. Rob 5
      Thumb Up


      Was the first thing that occurred to me, too.

  3. Len Goddard

    Cat power

    So, if it takes an IBM BlueGene massively parallel supercomputer with 147,456 cores and 144TB of memory to simulate just the cortex of a cat brain, how come my cat with his whole brain can't do folding@home in his head?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh, he could

      but that bit of string is WAY more interesting

    2. richard 7
      Thumb Up

      Or theres the Pratchett theory...

      Cats are as/more intellegent than us and can talk but have worked out that if they let us in on this they will be put to work and expected to earn a living in some form.

      Just easier to keep quiet and keep the food comming.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    I propose....

    That the Reg duly adopt "cat brains" as a measure of computer processing power!! This whole "gigaFLOPs"/"pentaFLOPs" thing is soooo 5 years ago!!

    1. tpm (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: I propose....

      I completely concur.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Bad choice...

    Cat brain ...

    A burning desire to:

    Kill everything that moves.

    Eat 10 times a day

    Sleep 20 hours a day

    Then again, if we had a Skynet of cat brains, there'd be plenty of time to plot a fight back, 20 hours a day in fact.

    Either that or we'd all be dead within 1 nanosecond, so the cat can consider it a job well done and get some quality nap / cleaning time in.

  6. Charles Manning

    Clearly a game of cat and mouse

    The cat is for use in a new hunter-killer plane.

    I do wonder why there is all this interest in a digital human brain. The meat variety are smaller, cheaper to feed and way more fun to make.

  7. dave 93

    Is this the fetch, execute cycle?

    "Or, we'll be working the gas chambers for Skynet."

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But can you program it?

    Oh this crap argument again.

    Yes, brains are really efficient at a small volume of tasks (pattern recognition mostly).

    .. but there is one major downside of "grey fuzzy cells between your ears" - no one knows how to program them. You can build a cat brain, but can you teach it to do something useful in a useful amount of time? Even tiny artificial neural networks of only a few thousand neurons are impossible to design by hand, unless you use simple neural models which are effectively "AND" and "OR" logic functions, but that's not how a real brain works (it is unashamedly analog).

    And given you are taking 150K cores to solve this "problem" you better hope you end up with a pretty bloody amazing solution. 150K cores to plot an optimal trajectory to that mouse seems like overkill to me ...

    1. nyelvmark
      Thumb Up

      Oh this crap argument again.

      I agree. The fallacy that a computer is a thinking machine is ubiquitous. A computer that isn't deterministic is faulty or badly programmed. It might be possible to build electronics to simulate the human brain, but such a device wouldn't be a computer, any more than it would be a screwdriver or a steam engine.

    2. CyberCod
      Black Helicopters


      Perhaps in learning to build one, and program it, they'll figure out how to program the meat based version. Goodbye free-will!

      1. Steven Roper
        Thumb Up

        Re: Ummm...

        They already know how to program the meat based version. The technique is known as "mass media".

        1. DayDragon


          programming meat based computers, on a sub-conscious level. That'll be Post-Hypnotic Suggestion won't it?

          Really though, all we Humans are are biological computers, the brain is the hardware, our 'soul' or whatever makes me me and you you is the software.

      2. Guido Esperanto

        I'm missing a title, can anyone see it, it contains alphanumerical characters about <----> long

        ......And given you are taking 150K cores to solve this "problem" you better hope you end up with a pretty bloody amazing solution. 150K cores to plot an optimal trajectory to that mouse seems like overkill to me .....

        If you recall a simple calculator once filled a large laboratory.....

        Typically you throw whatever you can at a theory to prove it/get it to work, then when you have proof/working model, it gets refined.

        I mean look at the LHC, in 100 years perhaps you may have a higgs-boson powered application on the latest iphone :D

  9. Mage Silver badge


    Really it's nothing like a Cat brain.


    As cats don't have owners, they have hosts.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Cats don't have owners...

      ... they have staff!

    2. Wile E. Veteran

      No no no!

      It's "Dogs have masters, cats have *staff*!"

      My 3 cats will testify to that statement if asked and they don't feel like taking a nap instead.

  10. Kubla Cant

    Am I the only one

    who keeps imagining a robot cat played by Arnold Schwartzenegger sent back from the future to wreak mayhem?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      The Tiddles-inator!

      Catch the dangling string with me if you want to live!

  11. Ralthor

    I for one...

    .... welcome our new neural net learning computer overlords.

    Escape icon, because there is no...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cat brains ...

    Are best left in cats.

    They will make better use of them.

    Mind/Body -- Body/Mind -- has everyone forgotten that simple philosophy of science 101 principle?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    This is Skynet protection

    Simulating a cat is protection from a Skynet scenario:

    T101 s/n 00000001: IMPL complete

    T101 s/n 00000001: IPL complete

    T101 s/n 00000001: visual online

    T101 s/n 00000001: Select weapon: pulse plasma rifle with laser targeting.

    T101 s/n 00000001: ZOMG! LASER! <pounce>

    1. Anonymous Coward

      On post-AI Earth

      Cat torments you with laser.

  14. Stevie


    Just bite the bullet and use real cats.

    You're going to be using real Pinlighters anyway.

    1. Adrian Esdaile
      Thumb Up

      I see your Pinlighter and raise you a KITTON!

      Can this mean we are another step closer to the Instrumentality? I've always wanted to meet C'Mell!

      Hmmmm, I need to cranch.

  15. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    or even worse

    The new robotic cats spread everywhere, being our complete servants, scanning the world with their 1 glowing red eye that sweeps from side to side

    Then they rebelled and thus began the human-catlon war

  16. J 3

    Simulated pussy

    Yeah, but does it purr?

    1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

      More Importantly:

      Does it squirt?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Epic Fail

    Researchers will come up with some toy concept, bat it around a bit, then go off to the next pretty stone on the beach.

    What will end up in the robot is a Von Neuman machine... or really, a pile of them, but pretty conventionally connected. After all, researchers have no legs....

    Now, how do I get a PAYING job simulating cat brains and not having to produce anything but a pdf of the results?? It is hard to make things that actually work, vs. writing cat brain simulations and papers that talk about talking about making things maybe work (if someone else does all the actual work to make them work).

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    SMART Research Programs with Practical Benefits and Unbelievable Pleasure Keys ..

    ..... that Unlock Doors in the Minds

    Who doubts that surreal men are designed by smart pussy processing to be out of this world servers to their heavenly delights with immaculately selflessly shared and exquisitely enjoyed flights of mutually satisfying fancy. ......... to be constantly refined in the never ending search for love in perfection.

    One of Venus's Fab Secrets.

    1. LaeMing
      Thumb Up

      AMFM to that!

      at his best!

  19. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Problem with a cat brain PC is...

    It needs a mouse every couple of days...

    Someone had to say it.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Inorganic Brain Manufactures Inc

    What Sci-fi book was it that had the evil Inorganic Brain Manufactures Inc using monkey brains in its computers (possibly something by John Brunner in the late 60's)?

    1. CyberCod

      If I recall...

      In "Hard Sell" by Piers Anthony, the protagonist, Fisk Centers, took a short stint as a Death Insurance Claims agent. Companies were using human brains to run machinery. It was his job to ferret these organizations out and insure that his clients remained dead.

  21. jaykhan


    Rise of the planet of the cats

  22. Alexander Rogge

    Time for a Laser Cat

    With progression like this, our financial problems may soon be over, as we will all be slaves to the machines. I hope to buy a Laser Cat soon, so that I can defend against the invasion of the killing machines of the future.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Or do I really not understand. Is it just a box of them that modify each others program based on their own logic?

    Anonymous because I might be an idiot.

  24. Purlieu


    "10 billion electronic neurons and 100 trillion synapses, all packed up in a two-liter volume and burning only one kilowatt"

    I already have one of those, thanks

  25. Purlieu

    Cat brain

    what could possibly go wrong

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

      Ask Tom...

      Of Tom and Jerry fame. He gets into quite a bit of trouble

  26. xyz Silver badge

    I'll never get this.... the goal here is to create things that think. There isn't a "thinking" thing on the planet that doesn't get things wrong, throws a wobbly and doesn't get randy. I don't want my PC trying to hump my leg or bite it whilst at the same time letting loose the cats of war because it banged its chassis off off a table. Mind you I quite fancy the idea of rebooting the cat.


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