The aim is to build a computer which mimics how nerve cells in the brain interact in a bid to engineer more 'fault tolerant' electronics.
The computer will be the first of its kind and will be used to try and understand how, for example, the details of complex visual scenes are encoded by the brain.
Professor Steve Furber, of The School of Computer Science, will lead the £1m project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The work will be carried out in collaboration with the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, using technology supplied by industrial partners ARM Ltd and Silistix Ltd.
Professor Furber said: "Our brains keep working despite frequent failures of their component neurons, and this 'fault-tolerant' characteristic is of great interest to engineers who wish to make computers more reliable.
"Our aim is to use the computer to understand better how the brain works at the level of spike patterns, and to see if biology can help us see how to build computer systems that continue functioning despite component failures."
The computer will be designed with the aim of modelling large numbers of neurons in real time and to track patterns of neural spikes as they occur in the brain.
It will be built using large numbers of simple microprocessors designed to interact like the networks of neurons found in the brain. The aim will be to place dozens of microprocessors on single silicon chip reducing the cost and power consumption of the computer.
Notes to Editors:
Pictures of Steve Furber and various microchips are available on request.
Professor Steve Furber is the ICL Professor of Computer Engineering in the School of Computer Science at the University of Manchester.
The School of Computer Science is part of The University of Manchester's Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences.