Lab-Grown Brain Cells Learn to Play PONG, May Be Sentient - Nerdist
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Lab-Grown Brain Cells Learn to Play PONG, May Be Sentient

Scientists grew human brain cells that integrated themselves with a silicon computer chip and simulated a world similar to the classic video game Pong. Within five minutes, the neurons learned how to play the game. The team dubbed the system DishBrain and determined this example of biological computing shows both intelligent and sentient behavior. This breakthrough can help computers become smarter and artificial intelligence programs learn faster. Or does it just get us one step closer to a Matrix-like reality that proves we’re all living in a simulation? 

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According to a press release, gameplay is relatively simple. “Electrodes on the left or right of one array were fired to tell DishBrain which side the ball was on, while distance from the paddle was indicated by the frequency of signals. Feedback from the electrodes taught DishBrain how to return the ball, by making the cells act as if they themselves were the paddle.”

The team published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Neuron, which we first saw on Gizmodo. They plan to tweak the hardware, software, and what they call wetware, or the cells themselves, in order to optimize DishBrain. Eventually, scientists could use this system to study therapies and drugs for damaged brain cells.

A silicon computer chip coated with human brain cells
BJ Kagan et al, Neuron (2022)

Next up, the scientists plan to introduce ethanol to the system. They will basically get DishBrain drunk to see how that affects its ability to learn and play Pong. If it’s anything like me, it will think it’s doing better but in reality it will be playing much worse. But the real question is, what game will the team teach DishBrain next? 

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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