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19 Dec, 2021 09:08

Scientists force human brain cells into Matrix-like simulation

Scientists force human brain cells into Matrix-like simulation

Human brain cells cultured in a petri dish and assisted by microelectrodes picked up the art of playing the ‘Pong’ video game significantly faster than AI did.

Researchers at Australia’s Cortical Labs harnessed hundreds of thousands of human brain cells grown on top of arrays of microelectrodes, teaching the biotechnological hybrid they dubbed ‘DishBrain’ to play a single-player version of old-school ‘Pong’. They then compared the speed with which the mini-brain picked up the skill with that of artificial intelligence (AI). The human brain cells beat their rival hands down, getting the hang of the game in just five minutes compared to the 90 minutes it took the machine to catch on. 

Brett Kagan, the lab’s chief scientific officer who leads the research, told New Scientist magazine, however, that it is not all that cut and dried. Once AI does learn how to play the game, it ends up being more skilled than the human brain cells.

That notwithstanding, the scientists behind the project say it has demonstrated that a “single layer of in vitro cortical neurons can self-organize and display intelligent and sentient behavior.” Moreover, this could have some practical implications, too, as Cortical Labs is hoping the research will help pave the way for integrating “live biological neurons” with “traditional silicon computing,” in what would effectively be a proper cyborg brain.

And if that was not sci-fi enough, the researchers are cited by New Scientist as referring to the human brain cells as “living in the Matrix.” Here is what that means: When the mini-brain plays the simplified, single-player version of ‘Pong’, the brain cells are tricked into believing they are the paddle that hits the ball in the game.

As for the experiment itself, the brain cells sit on top of arrays of microelectrodes that stimulate them, sending electrical signals to either the right or left array to indicate where the ball is. In response, the ‘DishBrain’ releases neurons to move the paddle, while the same electrodes analyze the neural activity and enable the virtual reality to respond accordingly.