How appropriate that we get a new Matrix movie just in time to see scientists create a virtual environment that hooks up directly to human brain cells. Are we mere decades away from a real-life Matrix scenario? Probably not because humans are terrible batteries, but I'll let you be the judge.
As first reported by New Scientist (courtesy of IGN), Cortical Labs has grown human neurons in a lab and lined them up in a petri dish to create tiny mini-brains. They're not like regular human brains that can think complex thoughts like "why am I here?" or "why did It Takes Two win game of the year?", but they can send and receive electrical impulses and learn a rudimentary understanding of its situation.
To prove it, Cortical Labs hooked up these mini-brains to an electrical interface and taught them how to play Pong.
“We often refer to them as living in the Matrix,” said chief scientific officer Brett Kagan. Each mini-brain is literally hooked up to a computer that teaches the brain how to play. The mini-brain first learns that it's controlling the paddle and then learns the idea of the game is to keep the little white ball from getting past it. After five minutes or so, the brain gets the hang of it and starts playing Pong on its own.
That's actually a lot faster than a regular machine-based AI, which might take as long as 90 minutes to learn how to play Pong. However, artificial intelligence would eventually become much better at playing Pong than an organic brain since once you understand the game of Pong it all boils down to math.
The idea behind this research is to eventually incorporate biological neurons into traditional computational tasks to solve problems more quickly. AI is great for crunching numbers, but it starts to stumble when asked to do something beyond mere math. Eventually, we might see synthetic brains in autonomous robots.
If brains playing Pong isn’t science going too far, there’s always the Doom-playing rats. Another neuroscientist recently published a paper on how to get rats to play Doom using a 3D printed apparatus and a curved monitor. We might even be able to see those rats playing Doom on Twitch.
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