You might have heard of Dishbrain, 800,000 lab-grown brain cells in a dish which has the ability to play a 1970s video game (badly).
Writing in the journal Neuron, Dr. Brett Kagan of the Cortical Labs, claims that he has created the first sentient lab grown brain in a dish.
Other experts tend to describe that as a slight exaggeration but Dishbrain has just been on the BBC news tonight and it does conjure up some amazing thoughts. It genuinely is science fiction coming to life in the present.
Brett Kagan is the lead researcher on this project and in his summary report he describes it as: “In vitro neural networks from human or rodent origins are integrated with in silico computing via a high-density multielectrode array.”
Almost unintelligible but you get the message ??. He says that “electrophysiological stimulation and recording” were used to embed cultures “in a simulated game-world, mimicking the arcade game Pong”.
He hopes that his invention may provide insights into the cellular correlates of intelligence to use his own words.
“The mini-brain learned without it being taught and so is more adaptable and flexible”. – Dr Brett Kagan
The lab brain is able to take in information from external sources and process it and then respond in real-time. I guess that’s how it plays Pong.
Lab mini brains are used to research brain development. However, this is the first time that one has been plugged into an external environment and interacted with it.
The researchers grew human brain cells from stem cells and is also some from mouse embryos to form the collection of 800,000.
They connected the Dishbrain to the video game with electrodes and in response the brain produced electrical activity. The brain learned to play the game albeit badly in five minutes.
It often missed the ball, but the success rate was much better than random chance.
They decided that it does not know it’s playing Pong and the way that a human being would.
Dr. Brett Kagan hopes that his technology might be used to test treatments for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
He says that “the purpose of brain cells is to process information in real time. Tapping into their true function unlocks so many more research areas that can be explored in a comprehensive way.”
He wants to inebriate the brain with alcohol and see how it functions when playing the same game!
Sentient beings have the ability to feel pain and emotions. Perhaps the better definition of Dishbrain is that it is a thinking system.
And no doubt mini-brains will become maxi-brains in the future and then we will enter the brave new world of robots which dominate humankind and create a whole new set of dangers and hazards well beyond our imagination.