IBM Simulates Part of a Human Brain, All of a Cat’s

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Cat lovers allergic to cats (but not robo-kitties), your day of bliss may be closer: IBM’s put together all the supercomputing parts and pieces to replicate the number of neural synapses inside a feline noggin. That, in short, means they’ve managed to simulate the essential pieces of Fluffy’s brain.

And not just a cat’s brain, but other animals’ gray matter as well, up to and including humans (well, sort of—more on that in a moment). How? Buckets and buckets of processors, each one more or less like the one inside your average home computer or tablet, running in parallel.

(MORE: IBM Aims to Build Artificial Human Brain Within 10 Years)

According to Scientific American, IBM’s also simulated the brain of a mouse (512 processors) and a rat (2,048), while the virtual cat brain clocks in at a respectable 24,576. What those numbers mean: IBM’s established a functional ratio between one processor plus one gigabyte of memory, and the correlative crunch-power of a certain number of neurons and synapses. In fact a supercomputer IBM’s dubbed “Blue Gene,” with 147,456 processors configured in parallel, managed to simulate 4.5% of the human brain, claims the company.

“The cat is out of the bag,” quips IBM in the title of a paper (fairly technical, warning) describing its research into “cortical simulations” with 10 to the ninth power neurons and 10 to the thirteenth power synapses.

What would you need to simulate the entire human brain, with some 20 billion neurons and 200 trillion synapses? 880,000 processors, says IBM, something it’s hoping to pull off by 2019…and the singularity, as Ray Kurzweil’s so fond of saying, may be nearer.

[UPDATE: IBM just dropped us a note to inform that the Scientific American story is actually old news, rehashed from 2009, and that IBM hasn’t “done these simulations in years”).

MORE: Scientists Can (Almost) Read Your Mind, Turn Thoughts into Movies

Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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