In a first, scientists hooked up brain to artificial neurons


A team of scientists successfully managed to cause rat neurons and artificial neurons to communicate with each other over the web for the first time.

This joint discovery of the researchers from the University of Padova in Italy, the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, is likely to spur more studies in the area of AI and neural research. It is an example of the power of the convergence of three essential technologies. The experiment demonstrates how technologies like brain-machine interfaces (BMI), artificial neural networks (ANN) and advanced memory technologies (memristors) can work in concert.

A BMI is a communication pathway between a wired brain and an external device. ANNs mimic biological neural networks in animal brains, while memristors are a non-volatile memory technology that can vary its resistance levels. They are considered the fourth passive component type after resistors, capacitors and inductors.

During the study, the Italian researchers cultivated the rat neurons and the Zurich team created the synthetic neurons on silicon microchips. The scientists then set up a virtual lab, connecting the two research stations via artificial synapses built with nanotechnology. A synapse is a region in the brain transmitting and receiving nerve impulses.

The new development could enable communication between biological and non-biological neurons across global networks, says Themistoklis Prodromakis, professor of nanotechnology and director of the Centre for Electronics Frontiers at the University of Southampton.

An example of such a network is the concept of the Internet of Neuro-electronics IoN, for instance.

Importantly, the discovery could, further, make it possible to replace dysfunctional parts of the brain with AI chips (neuroprosthetics).

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, SpaceX and Neuralink, together with other investors, is one of the entrepreneurs already working on and improving upon the BMI technology. His efforts are intended to provide treatment for neurological injures and conditions, with the eventual goal to allow human augmentation.

The latest addition to the industry is Neurosity, a company that has created a brain-computer interface in the form of a headset called the Notion, which is aimed at developers.

Reporting by Martin K. Editing by Angel Milev