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China’s Brain-inspired Computing Team Explores Uncharted AI Territory

In a lab of the Department of Precision Instruments, Tsinghua University, a group of cameras recorded fast-changing pictures on a flat panel display. A nearby buzzing server was running a program to recognise the images.

The chip is the world’s first heterogeneous fusion brain-inspired computing chip that supports both neuroscience-based pulse neural networks and computer science-based artificial neural networks and was rated as one of the top 10 sci-tech achievements in China in 2019.

The researchers began to explore the uncharted territory of artificial intelligence (AI) with an interdisciplinary team formed by researchers from the fields of brain science, computing, microelectronics, electronics, precision instruments, automation and materials.

There is no existing theory, direction or path for brain-inspired computing. You have to start from scratch. But it is also an opportunity because the exploration of uncharted territory has the potential to bring breakthroughs in key scientific and technological fields.

– Prof. Shi Luping, director of the Center for Brain-Inspired Computing Research

The research and application of AI have made great progress, but at present most AI solutions are aimed at specific scenarios. With one solution for only one scenario, it is narrow AI. It will be challenged when dealing with uncertain and dynamic complex problems without sufficient data. One of the best ways to solve this problem is to develop general AI with human intelligence characteristics.

Brain-inspired computing is a new computing technology based on neuromorphic engineering, using basic principles of brain science for the development of general AI. The research of brain-inspired computing is still in the initial stage, and there are no recognised technical standards in the world.

The development of supercomputers provides a better simulation environment for brain-like computing, while big data and cloud computing provide a digital universe whose complexity is getting closer to that of the brain. The brain and the digital universe can be regarded as mirror images, learning from each other and promoting mutual understanding. Meanwhile, new nanotechnology could create devices that use as much energy as human neurons, paving the way for brain-inspired computing.

The team developed a complete brain-inspired computing platform from theory, chips, software to systems and applications, which is still being updated. The chip has been developed for generations, and the world’s first brain-inspired commercial chip has also hit the market with many different applications. In recent years, Tsinghua University has made innovative achievements in theory, chips and devices in the field of brain-inspired computing, reaching the frontier of the global research community.

The team had taken into consideration the fact that the production process can be handled by domestic manufacturers. The chip can achieve excellent computing power based on the current domestic manufacturing level, which is also one of the potential advantages of brain-inspired computing.

China has been utilising advanced technologies in various fields, including healthcare with the development of vascular interventional surgical robots. As reported by OpenGov Asia, Chinese researchers from the Beijing Institute of Technology have cooperated with Beijing Tiantan Hospital and other units to research core technology optimisation and special consumables of vascular interventional surgery robots. The surgery robot has become the interventional robot product with the fastest research and development progress in China.

With the support of the project of the National Key R&D Programme of China “Industrialisation Research and Application of Minimally Invasive Vascular Interventional Surgery Robot”, the development of the robot was fully completed. At present, the surgical robot, after further technological upgrades, has taken the lead in entering the clinical trial stage registered by the NMPA (National Medical Products Administration), and 123 clinical trial cases have been completed.

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