International Business Machines Corp unveiled a "brain-like" computer chip on Thursday that is the size of a postage stamp and capable of processing massive amounts of data while handling inputs from many different sources, the company said.

The announcement of the TrueNorth chip comes one month after IBM unveiled a $3 billion investment over the next five years in chip research and development to find a game-changing breakthrough that can help revive its slumping hardware unit.

Unlike most chips, which operate on pre written paths, IBM's version processes data in real-time and is capable of dealing with ambiguity, the company said. It runs on the energy equivalent of a hearing aid.

IBM TrueNorth chip

IBM's new postage stamp-sized chip integrates a million artificial neurons and 256 million artificial synapses. (IBM Research)

Built on Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co Ltd's 28-nanometre process technology, the chip only consumes 70 milliwatts of energy.

A product of almost a decade of research, the chip aims to bridge the divide between existing computers and the brain's high cognitive power and low energy use.

"After years of collaboration with IBM, we are now a step closer to building a computer similar to our brain," said Professor Rajit Manohar at Cornell Tech, where the chip was designed.

The chip contains one million programmable neurons and could allow a thermometer to scan and smell chemical signals and deliver a diagnosis, or help a search and rescue robot to identify people in need during a disaster, the company said.

IBM hopes it can integrate multi-sensory processing into mobile devices and says the chip can handle future advances in memory, 3G integration, logic and sensor technologies.