John: “Hey Bill, I got this new computer, and it has 4 GB RAM and HD!”

Bill: “Well John, I can top that. I just got one with an IQ of 130!”

Instead of talking about a computer’s gigabytes, we might soon move to discussions about a computing system’s IQ. IBM researchers are making strides in developing a new kind of computing system that can simulate and emulate the human brain. Two major achievements may indicate the feasibility of building a cognitive computing chip.

First, researchers at the IBM Reasearch-Almaden and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.

In addition, IBM and Stanford University have developed an algorithm – called BlueMatter – that uses the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture (a computer architecture project designed to produce several supercomputers) to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging.

IBM’s cognitive computing initiative is designed to discover and demonstrate the algorithms of the brain and deliver low-power, compact cognitive computers that approach mammalian-scale intelligence and use significantly less energy than today’s computing systems.

These new computing systems are needed to identify imbedded patterns in varied kinds of data, both digital and sensory; analyze and integrate information in real-time in a context-dependent way; and deal with the ambiguity found in complex, real-world environments.

What does this mean for health IT? If computing systems mimicked human cognition, virtual physician helpers may arise. This technology could greatly enhance EHR functionality, interoperability, and ease of use for medical practitioners. Perhaps medical professionals and computer geniuses –literally speaking- could get along after all.