Northern California Science Writers Association

Building the brain in silicon

  • Thursday, March 10, 2011
  • 6:30 PM - 9:30 PM
  • Basque Cultural Center, South San Francisco

NCSWA Spring Dinner: Building the brain in silicon

Thursday, Mar. 10,  2011

DEADLINE: midnight, Wednesday 10 March

Your human brain runs on just 20 watts of powerundefinedabout equal to the dim light bulb behind the pickle jar in your refrigerator. By comparison, a digital computer with the same processing power would devour at least 10 million watts of powerundefinedequal to a small hydroelectric power plant. Engineers are working on ways to build computers that can emulate the brain's power efficiency, but doing it will mean forsaking most of what we've learned about building computers over the last 50 years.

Join us on Thursday, Mar. 10, for a dinner and talk by Kwabena Boahen, professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. Boahen is a leader in the rapidly growing field of neuromorphic engineering. His goal is to understand how the brain works by reverse engineering its neural circuits in silicon.

Neuromorphic electronics could help solve a fundamental problem: the energy consumption and heat dissipation of computers is increasingly limiting what we can do with themundefinedwhether we're talking about neuroprosthetics, autonomous robots, or simply increasing the speed of laptop computers.

While modern, digital computers are built for accuracy, the evolution of the brain was shaped by energy efficiency as much as anything else, and that has led to tradeoffs that would horrify a silicon chip designer. Imagine if the transistors in your computer misfired 1 in every 10 times rather than 1 in every 100 quadrillion times, as they do now? That's where Boahen is going. His team has already built silicon versions of retina, cortex, hippocampus, and other neural tissues that are up to 1,000 times more power-efficient than a digital computer would be doing the same task. Come hear Boahen talk about what he's learning, and where all of this is headed!

6:30 pm – No-host happy hour
7:30 pm – Dinner
8:30 pm – Speaker

Basque Cultural Center
(middle dining room)
599 Railroad Avenue
South San Francisco

Parking is available on-site. Maps, directions, and other information can be found at:

The cost is $27 members/$20 students/$31 non-members. The Basque Cultural Center serves French-accented fare in a private banquet room. Entrée choices include: salmon with champagne sauce, breast of chicken chasseur, and vegetarian pasta. All entrées are served with soup, salad, bread and butter, plus ice cream for dessert and coffee. There is a full-service (no-host) bar.

To reserve your spot, please select your entrée choice and pay online at:
(((DEADLINE: midnight, Wednesday, March 2)))

Payment options are at the bottom of the page.

If you're unable to pay online, please email For other questions about the dinner email

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