Scientists have created a game – out of cells, in the lab.
An Australian-led team of researchers placed 800,000 live human and mouse brain cells in a dish, attached them to electrodes and simulated the classic game of Pong. Then the scientists watched how quickly the miniature brain itself learned the game and improved it the more it played. They were able to follow through by turning cellular responses into a visual depiction of the game much like the original.
They call their system DishBrain, and they say it proves that neurons in a dish can learn and display basic signs of intelligence. The team details the new setup, called Artificial Biological Intelligence, in a study published Wednesday in the journal Neuron.
Ultimately, say the authors, SBI can help unleash prolongedAnd it leads to better treatments for some neurological conditions. “DishBrain offers a simpler approach to test how the brain works and gain insight into debilitating conditions such as epilepsy and dementia,” says Hon Weng Chong, CEO of biotech startup Cortical Labs.
The SBI could also offer an alternative to animal testing, which is often the way scientists study the feasibility of new drugs and treatments.
“We now have, in principle, a biomimetic ‘sandbox’ in which to test the effects of drugs and genetic variants – a sandbox made up of exactly the same computational (neural) elements that are in your brain and your brain,” adds co-author Professor Carl Friston, neuroscientist Theoretical at University College London.
Artificial Intelligence vs. Biological Intelligence
The study team found that biological intelligence, also known as living brain cells, behaves quite differently from a computer in relation to artificial intelligence.
“In the past, models of the brain were developed according to the way computer scientists thought the brain might function,” says Brett Kagan, chief scientific officer of Cortical Labs and co-author of the study. “This is usually based on our current understanding of information technology, such as silicon computing…but really we don’t really understand how the brain works.”
Interestingly, DishBrain naturally learned to play Pong out of a distinct tendency toward behaving in his environment in ways that make it more predictable and less random. In other words, this system behaves more like a real living brain than an AI does.
For example, when DishBrain succeeded in returning the “ball” in a game of Pong, this resulted in the system being able to better predict where it would move next. If the DishBrain fails, he loses the point and a new one starts with the computer shooting the ball from a random starting place, and so on. Since DishBrain uses a feedback loop, it seems to get progressively better the more you run it.
“This is great because you can’t teach this kind of self-regulation, simply because these little brains – unlike pets – don’t have a sense of reward and punishment,” Friston adds.
Cortical Labs, an Australian biotech startup, is now working on a new generation of biological computer chips to create a generalized form of SBI that, as the team writes in its study, “may arrive before general artificial intelligence due to the inherent efficiency and sophistication taking advantage of biological systems.”
“We know that our brains have the evolutionary advantage of being tuned over hundreds of millions of years to survive,” explains co-author Adil El-Razi of Monash University. “Now, it looks like we’ve got our hands on where we can harness this incredibly powerful and cheap biological intelligence.”
The researchers also tested the system on other simple games.
“Know when Google Chrome crashes and you get the dinosaur that you can jump over obstacles (the Polan Project),” Kagan says. “We’ve done this and seen some good initial results, but we still have more work to do to build new environments for custom purposes.”
Next, the team has plans to show DishBrain a good time.
“We’re trying to create a dose-response curve with ethanol — basically getting them to ‘drunk’ and seeing if they’re playing the game poorly, just like when people are drinking,” Kagan says.
While we look forward to the results of a drunken DishBrain study, let’s perhaps keep those drunk neurons away from any self-driving car code.
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