Perspex Analogue of Myelin Sheaths
Mr Sam Noble, an
M.Eng. student in Computer Science, has implemented a compiler for
the perspex machine that is far more efficient than previous
compilers and works by mimicking the way that biological neurons
The compiler generates artificial neurons that perform all of the
actions of a computer program. In the past when a perspex program
had to make a decision the neural fibres would branch, keeping a
copy of the remaining part of the program on each branching fibre.
This is hugely inefficient, because it implies an exponential growth
in neural tissue to perform computations. Sam cut out this waste by
making the compiler place "jumpers" around each neural fibre that
cause the branches to jump back into segments of the main fibre.
This is a major advantage for implementing the perspex machine on a
Dr Anderson noticed that the jumpers form a sheath around a perspex
fibre in much the same way as myelin forms a sheath around
biological neural fibres. Myelin has a two-fold function. It speeds
up the transmission of electrical signals along an axon, allowing
neurons to communicate more quickly with each other, and it
insulates axons so that the signals do not cross over to neurons
that happen to lie close to the axon. The jumper sheaths have no
effect on the speed of electrical signals in a computer, but they do
prevent cross-over to nearby perspex neurons.
Dr Anderson says, "We should expect jumper sheaths and myelin
sheaths to have some commonality in function, because both perspex
neurons and biological neurons are geometrical structures that carry
Earlier research has found that perspex programs organise into
fibres, sheets, and blocks of perspex neurons, and that synaptic
gaps between perspex neurons affect computation.
Dr Anderson says, "We are seeing the emergence of a computer that
mimics aspects of the biological brain for deep mathematical
reasons. When I invented the perspex machine, I expected this to
happen, but I am constantly surprised by the exquisite detail of the
mimicry and the enormous computational advantages it brings."