Oct 16, 2022 - Science

Neurons can play Pong

Pong controlled by a layer of neurons in a dish. Credit: Kagan et al - Neuron

Pong controlled by a layer of neurons in a dish. Credit: Kagan et al - Neuron

Neurons can play Pong, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The researchers say the experimental setup is a new way to study how the brain works and to potentially better understand epilepsy and other diseases.

How it works: Researchers at the Melbourne-based startup Cortical Labs grew mouse and human neurons on a "DishBrain"— an array of electrodes that can read the electrical activity of the neurons to move the paddle.

  • It can also deliver an electrical pulse to the cells that provides feedback — in under 5 milliseconds — that the neuron was hitting the ball.
  • The 800,000 neurons learned to play within 5 minutes — and, as time went on, rallied longer.
  • Human neurons could rally longer than mouse neurons.

The neurons "can adjust firing activity in a way that suggests the ability to learn to perform goal-oriented tasks," the team wrote in the journal Neuron.

  • They term it "synthetic biological intelligence" — but not everyone is convinced, Dan Robitzski writes in The Scientist.

The big picture: "The results shouldn't be surprising, because neurons are built to process information," says Brett Kagan, chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs.

  • Generalized intelligence — a major goal for AI researchers — comes from neurons. The team at Cortical wants to develop next-generation computer chips that harness neurons' computational power.
  • "So, it's not that wild, and at the same time, it is quite exciting," he says.

What's next: The team plans to treat the neurons with ethanol and medicines to see their effect, and to use the system to try to find "insights into the cellular correlates of intelligence," they say in the paper.

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