Scientists Taught Human Brain Cells In a Dish How to Play 'Pong'

And they're faster than AI.
Irmak Bayrakdar

Researchers at Cortical Labs, a biotechnology startup, have successfully taught human brain cells in a petri dish how to play the 2D table tennis simulation video game "Pong".

The team managed to create mini-brains consisting of 800,000 to one million living human brain cells in a petri dish, reports New Scientist. Regarding the unlikely study, Brett Kagan, chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs and research lead of the project, says "We think it’s fair to call them cyborg brains". 

Teaching brain cells to play a video game

The team kicked things off with a simplified version of the once-popular video game "Pong" in which the cells played single-player games. How does it work? According to the study, 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. You can watch a demonstration in the video below.

What's significant about this study is while there have been many other studies including mini brain-like organoids, this is the first time that mini-brains have been found to perform goal-directed tasks, says Kagan.

The study is still in its early stages, so they can't exactly compete with humans just yet. However, scarily enough, the mini brains learn much faster compared to some AIs. He says “The amazon aspect is how quickly it learns, in five minutes, in real time. That’s really an amazing thing that biology can do.” Since neurons learn way quicker than current AI models, this may lead to a new era in machine learning

Kagan likens the mini brains to something out of the sci-fi series Matrix. In an interview with the New Scientist, Kagan said that they "... often refer to them as living in the Matrix, when they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle.” 

Scared yet? 

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