Brain on a Chip: Research team bags grant to merge brain and AI

"This new technology capability in future may eventually surpass the performance of existing, purely silicon-based hardware."
Amal Jos Chacko
Representational image.jpg
Representational image.


A pioneering research program led by Monash University's Associate Professor Adeel Razi, in collaboration with Melbourne start-up Cortical Labs, has been awarded a prestigious grant of around AUD 600,000 from the National Intelligence and Security Discovery Research Grants Program, according to a press release

This transformative project aims to grow human brain cells on silicon chips, creating remarkable capabilities in the realm of machine learning.

The focal point of the study revolves around growing approximately 800,000 living brain cells onto silicon chips, allowing researchers to "teach" these cells to perform goal-directed tasks. 

The new study comes off the back of last year's success, when the brain cells were taught to play a simple computer game, Pong, and attracted global attention, marking a significant milestone in the team's research.

Associate Professor Razi explained that the integration of lab-grown brain cells with silicon chips “merges the fields of artificial intelligence and synthetic biology to create programmable biological computing platforms." 

“This new technology capability in future may eventually surpass the performance of existing, purely silicon-based hardware,” he added.

The Future of Machine Intelligence

The research program's breakthrough lies in its focus on "continual lifelong learning" – a capability that existing AI systems lack. 

The ability to learn throughout a machine's lifetime, acquire new skills without forgetting old ones, adapt to these changes, and apply previously learned knowledge to new tasks, all while conserving computing power, memory, and energy, is a game-changer for the future of machine intelligence.

Traditional AI suffers from "catastrophic forgetting," a phenomenon where it overwrites previously learned information when exposed to new data. 

This is in stark contrast to the human brain, which excels at continual lifelong learning, enabling us to adapt and learn new skills all through our lives.

This new generation of machine learning applications— self-driving cars, autonomous drones, delivery robots, and intelligent wearable devices— demands a different kind of intelligence, one that can evolve and learn continuously. 

Unlocking the Secrets of Lifelong Learning

The heart of the project lies in the DishBrain system—an innovative laboratory dish where human brain cells are grown. 

The research team aims to gain a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying lifelong continual learning and create more advanced AI machines with remarkable capabilities by replicating these mechanisms.

“We will be using this grant to develop better AI machines that replicate the learning capacity of these biological neural networks. This will help us scale up the hardware and methods capacity to the point where they become a viable replacement for in silico computing,” Associate Professor Razi added.

The impact of this research could give Australia a significant strategic advantage in various industries and propel the country to the forefront of the AI revolution. The project is one to keep an eye on, and the secrets of lifelong learning it unlocks as it progresses.

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