Steve Furber CBE FRS FREng is ICL Professor of Computer Engineering in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester, UK. After completing a BA in mathematics and a PhD in aerodynamics at the University of Cambridge, UK, he spent the 1980s at Acorn Computers, where he was a principal designer of the BBC Microcomputer and the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor. Over 75 billion variants of the ARM processor have since been manufactured, powering much of the world’s mobile and embedded computing. Steve moved to the ICL Chair at Manchester in 1990 where he leads research into asynchronous and low-power systems and, more recently, neural systems engineering, where the SpiNNaker project is delivering a computer incorporating a million ARM processors optimised for brain modelling applications.
Just two years after the world’s first stored program computer ran its first program at Manchester in 1948, Alan Turing published his seminal paper on “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”. The paper opens with the words: I propose to consider the question, “Can machines think?”. Turing then goes on to explore this question thought what he calls “The Imitation Game”, but which subsequent generations simply call “The Turing Test”. Despite spectacular progress in the performance and efficiency of machines since Turing’s time, we have yet to see any convincing demonstration of a machine that can pass his test. My take on the problems with true artificial intelligence are that we still really haven’t worked out what natural intelligence is. Based on this view, we need to return to the source of natural intelligence, the human brain. The SpiNNaker project has been 18 years in conception and 10 years in construction, but is now ready to contribute to the growing global community (exemplified by the EU Human Brain Project) that is aiming to deploy the vast computing resources now available to us to accelerate our understanding of the brain.