Computer Laboratory

Computer Architecture Group

BIMPA Project: Biologically inspired massively parallel architectures
- computing beyond a million processors

Motivation

The human brain remains as one of the great frontiers of science - how does this organ upon which we all depend so critically actually do its job? A great deal is known about the underlying technology - the neuron - and we can observe large-scale brain activity through techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging, but this knowledge barely starts to tell us how the brain works. Something is happening at the intermediate levels of processing that we have yet to begin to understand, but the essence of the brain's information processing function probably lies in these intermediate levels. To get at these middle layers requires that we build models of very large systems of spiking neurons, with structures inspired by the increasingly detailed findings of neuroscience, in order to investigate the emergent behaviours, adaptability and fault-tolerance of those systems.

Our goal in this project is to deliver machines of unprecedented cost-effectiveness for this task, and to make them readily accessible to as wide a user base as possible. We will also explore the applicability of the unique architecture that has emerged from the pursuit of this goal to other important application domains.

As part of this project we built the Bluehive neural network computer to provide a large system of FPGAs connected by high-speed low-latency links, which we believe is key to simulating neural networks with millions of neurons and billions of synaptic connections.

Bluehive photo

Collaboration

In Cambridge we are performing architectural exploration use large numbers of FPGAs to prototype systems.

The other partners on this project are:

Related eFutures Funding

We also received a small amount of funding to explore code generation for neural computation and held a workshop toward the end of this project.

Investigators

Simon Moore
Robert Mullins

Funding

Funded by EPSRC - grant code EP/G015783/1

Key publications

Matthew Naylor, Paul J Fox, A Theodore Markettos and Simon W Moore,
Managing the FPGA Memory Wall: Custom Computing or Vector Processing?
to appear in: 23rd International Conference on Field Programmable Logic and Applications (FPL), Sep 2013

Simon W. Moore, Paul J. Fox, Steven J.T. Marsh, A. Theodore Markettos, Alan Mujumdar,
Bluehive - A Field-Programmable Custom Computing Machine for Extreme-Scale Real-Time Neural Network Simulation
20th International Symposium of Field-Programmable Custom Computing Machines (FCCM), pages 133-140, April 2012 (PDF preprint) (DOI: 10.1109/FCCM.2012.32).

Video

A demo of a simple character recognition spiking neural network from the Nengo simulator, running on our DE4 FPGA Tablet.

(Other formats of this video are available from http://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1446267.)