Researchers at the MicroNano Research Facility (MNRF) have built the one of the world’s first electronic multi-state memory cell which mirrors the brain’s ability to simultaneously process and store multiple strands of information.
The development brings them closer to imitating key electronic aspects of the human brain – a vital step towards creating a bionic brain – which could help unlock successful treatments for common neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Project leader Dr Sharath Sriram, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, said the ground-breaking development imitates the way the brain uses long-term memory.
“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Dr Sharath said.
“The human brain is an extremely complex analog computer… its evolution is based on its previous experiences, and up until now this functionality has not been able to be adequately reproduced with digital technology.”
The ability to create highly dense and ultra-fast analog memory cells paves the way for imitating highly sophisticated biological neural networks, he said.
The research builds on RMIT’s previous discovery where ultra-fast nano-scale memories were developed using a functional oxide material in the form of an ultra-thin film – 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Dr Hussein Nili, lead author of the study, said: “This new discovery is significant as it allows the multi-state cell to store and process information in the very same way that the brain does.
“Think of an old camera which could only take pictures in black and white. The same analogy applies here, rather than just black and white memories we now have memories in full color with shade, light and texture, it is a major step.”
While these new devices are able to store much more information than conventional digital memories (which store just 0s and 1s), it is their brain-like ability to remember and retain previous information that is exciting.
“We have now introduced controlled faults or defects in the oxide material along with the addition of metallic atoms, which unleashes the full potential of the ‘memristive’ effect – where the memory element’s behaviour is dependent on its past experiences,” Dr Nili said.
Nano-scale memories are precursors to the storage components of the complex artificial intelligence network needed to develop a bionic brain.
Dr Nili said the research had myriad practical applications including the potential for scientists to replicate the human brain outside of the body.
“If you could replicate a brain outside the body, it would minimise ethical issues involved in treating and experimenting on the brain which can lead to better understanding of neurological conditions,” Dr Nili said.
Metal–oxide valence-change memristive devices are the key contenders for the development of multilevel nonvolatile analog memories and neuromorphic computing architectures. Reliable low energy performance and tunability of nonlinear resistive switching dynamics are essential to streamline the high-density circuit level integration of these devices. Here, manipulation of room temperature-synthesized defect chemistry is employed to enhance and tune the switching characteristics of high-performance amorphous SrTiO3 (a-STO) memristors. Substitutional donor (Nb) doping with low concentrations in the a-STO oxide structure allows extensive improvements in energy requirements, stability, and controllability of the memristive performance, as well as field-dependent multistate resistive switching. Evidence is presented that room temperature donor doping results in a modified insulator oxide where dislocation sites act as charge carrier modulators for low energy and multilevel operation. Finally, the performance of donor-doped a-STO-based memristive nanodevices is showcased, with the possibility of mechanical modulation of the nonlinear memristive characteristics of these devices demonstrated. These results highlight the potential of donor-doped a-STO nanodevices for high-density integration as analog memories and multifunctional alternative logic elements.
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