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Using Petri Dishes, Petri Dish Brain Cells Become a Better Pong Player Than an AI

The human brain is truly a marvel of engineering. It’s always on, can handle complicated problems, can pick up new skills, and can handle several streams of data at once. Just 12 to 24 watts, or less than a light bulb in a refrigerator, is all it takes to run. Because of this, scientists have attempted to turn biological nerve cells into computer-usable units. Scientists at Cortical Labs say they’ve recently reached a breakthrough in their work. They honed their gaming skills by teaching Pong to brain cells cultured in Petri plates. The human brain’s mini-brains learn quicker than any artificial intelligence system can.

DishBrains from Cortical Labs have between 800,000 and one million neurons. The brains are produced on a chip from human brain stem cells on an electronic circuit board with microelectrode mesh. Electromagnetic pulses can be used to selectively excite these neurons, just like in a real brain. Neurons respond to each stimulus with an electrical reaction, which can be detected.

DishBrains was taught to play Pong using a circuit board and clumps of cells by the researchers at the Australian company. Digital ball position was sent to cells via light pulses on circuit board bouncing against wall. For a given direction of movement, the circuit board’s impulses would be replicated geographically perfectly. As a result, the cells responded with electrical impulses that may be read as racket movement. For example, if a ball was missed, the researchers noted in the journal bioRxiv (DOI: 10.101/2021.12.02.471005) that this response was negative. Teaching a network of neurons, with relatively simple instructions, to excel in a video game is an accomplishment in and of itself.” What’s actually impressive about this breakthrough, though, is how quickly the DishBrains are learning, according to Cortical Labs.

Depending on the system’s processing capability, it can take an artificial intelligence more than an hour to learn the game of Pong, say the researchers. It only took a DishBrain around five minutes to master the game. This is because the brain’s neuronal connections have reorganised themselves to better manage the challenge.

Within a few years, Cortical Labs hopes to make this technology commercially feasible. In addition to the Australian company, there are many others working on this type of innovation. Several start-ups are working hard under the EU-funded Neu-ChiP initiative to “integrate human brain stem cells into specially designed complex circuits so that they can function like an artificial biological computer.”


Human Brain Cells From Petri Dishes Learn To Play Pong Faster Than AI – Science News. (2022, January 21). Science News.