National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA’s missions get a boost from brain-inspired, radically different computer design

April 15, 2016

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The first computers to contribute to the nation’s nuclear security work used thousands of vacuum tubes—which resembled fat light bulbs that gave off lots of heat—and consumed 125 kW of power to perform around 1,900 operations per second. This month NNSA’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) received a first-of-its-kind scalable supercomputing platform that can process the equivalent of 16 million neurons and 4 billion synapses and consume the energy equivalent of a hearing aid battery—just 2.5 watts.

The 16-chip IBM TrueNorth platform is “neuromorphic” – modeled after a brain – and capable of pattern recognition and integrated sensory processing. Each of the 16 chips in the system consists of 5.4 billion transistors wired together to create an array of 1 million digital neurons that communicate with one another via 256 million electrical synapses.

The new system will be used to explore new computing capabilities critical to NNSA’s missions through its Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program. ASC is a cornerstone of NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without underground explosive testing.

“Neuromorphic computing opens very exciting new possibilities and is consistent with what we see as the future of the high performance computing and simulation at the heart of our national security missions,” said Jim Brase, LLNL deputy associate director for Data Science. “The potential capabilities neuromorphic computing represents and the machine intelligence that these will enable will change how we do science.”

Learn more about the new True North system on the LLNL website.