A University of Florida scientist has cultured 25,000 living rat brain neurons in a petri dish and hooked the resulting soup up to a grid of sensors that controls a computer. The neurons of the synthetic “brain” are interacting with each other and with the computer, forming neural patterns, and can now fly — sort of — an F22 fighter jet simulator.
When DeMarse first puts the neurons in the dish, they look like little more than grains of sand sprinkled in water. However, individual neurons soon begin to extend microscopic lines toward each other, making connections that represent neural processes. “You see one extend a process, pull it back, extend it out – and it may do that a couple of times, just sampling who’s next to it, until over time the connectivity starts to establish itself,” he said. “(The brain is) getting its network to the point where it’s a live computation device.”
“Initially when we hook up this brain to a flight simulator, it doesn’t know how to control the aircraft,” DeMarse said. “So you hook it up and the aircraft simply drifts randomly. And as the data comes in, it slowly modifies the (neural) network so over time, the network gradually learns to fly the aircraft.”
This has astounding implications for understanding human brain development, for the future of artificial intelligence, and for the lowly philosopher contemplating ye olde Brain in a Vat problem. I wonder, is rat neuron soup doing battle with the Cartesian Demon?