TrueNorth: Design and Tool Flow of a 65 mW 1 Million Neuron Programmable Neurosynaptic Chip

Filipp Akopyan, Jun Sawada, Andrew Cassidy, Rodrigo Alvarez-Icaza, John Arthur, Paul Merolla, Nabil Imam, Y. Nakamura, P. Datta, Gi-Joon Nam, Brian Taba, M. Beakes, B. Brezzo, J.B. Kuang, Rajit Manohar, William Risk, Bryan Jackson, Dharmendra Modha

The new era of cognitive computing brings forth the grand challenge of developing systems capable of processing massive amounts of noisy multisensory data. This type of intelligent computing poses a set of constraints, including real-time operation, low-power consumption and scalability, which require a radical departure from conventional system design. Brain-inspired architectures offer tremendous promise in this area. To this end, we developed TrueNorth, a 65 mW real-time neurosynaptic processor that implements a non-von Neumann, low-power, highly-parallel, scalable, and defect-tolerant architecture. With 4096 neurosynaptic cores, the TrueNorth chip contains 1 million digital neurons and 256 million synapses tightly interconnected by an event-driven routing infrastructure. The fully digital 5.4 billion transistor implementation leverages existing CMOS scaling trends, while ensuring one-to-one correspondence between hardware and software. With such aggressive design metrics and the TrueNorth architecture breaking path with prevailing architectures, it is clear that conventional computer-aided design (CAD) tools could not be used for the design. As a result, we developed a novel design methodology that includes mixed asynchronous-synchronous circuits and a complete tool flow for building an event-driven, low-power neurosynaptic chip. The TrueNorth chip is fully configurable in terms of connectivity and neural parameters to allow custom configurations for a wide range of cognitive and sensory perception applications. To reduce the system's communication energy, we have adapted existing application-agnostic very large-scale integration CAD placement tools for mapping logical neural networks to the physical neurosynaptic core locations on the TrueNorth chips. With that, we have successfully demonstrated the use of TrueNorth-based systems in multiple applications, including visual object recognition, with higher performance and orders of magnitude lower power consumpt- on than the same algorithms run on von Neumann architectures. The TrueNorth chip and its tool flow serve as building blocks for future cognitive systems, and give designers an opportunity to develop novel brain-inspired architectures and systems based on the knowledge obtained from this paper.
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