Cortical Labs
Mind Games

Researchers Teach Human Brain Cells in a Dish to Play “Pong”

byTony Tran
12. 17. 21
Cortical Labs

"When they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle."

Cyborg Brains

Scientists have successfully taught a collection of human brain cells in a petri dish how to play the video game “Pong” — kind of. 

Researchers at the biotechnology startup Cortical Labs have created “mini-brains consisting of 800,000 to one million living human brain cells in a petri dish, New Scientist reports. The cells are placed on top of a microelectrode array that analyzes the neural activity. 

“We think it’s fair to call them cyborg brains,” Brett Kagan, chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs and research lead of the project, told New Scientist. 

Pick Up the Paddle

To teach the mini-brains the game, the team created a simplified version of “Pong” with no opponent. A signal is sent to either the right or left of the array to indicate where the ball is, and the neurons from the brain cells send signals back to move the paddle. 

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“We often refer to them as living in the Matrix,” Kagan told the magazine, in a horrifyingly reference to the 1999 movie in which humans are enslaved by AI overlords in an all-encompassing simulation. “When they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle.”

Well, that’s a scary enough concept to cause some existential panic for anyone. 

Faster Than AI

Kagan said that while the mini-brains can’t play the game as well as a human, they do learn faster than some AIs. 

“The amazon aspect is how quickly it learns, in five minutes, in real time,” he told New Scientist. “That’s really an amazing thing that biology can do.”

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While this is certainly some amazing Twitch fodder, the team at Cortical Labs hope to use their findings to develop sophisticated technology using “live biological neurons integrated with traditional silicon computing,” according to the outfit’s website.

So yeah, they want to create cyborg brains that use actual biological cells — which makes sense. Since neurons can learn so quickly, it can vastly improve current AI when brought together with machine learning. 

But we never would have guessed that the plot of “The Matrix” would actually occur before the newest movie comes out.

READ MORE: Human brain cells in a dish learn to play Pong faster than an AI [The New Scientist]

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More on neural research: Scientist Who Trained Rats to Play “Doom II” Says He May Start Twitch Channel


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