Under the name Brainoware, we find what could be the first serious step toward creating a “hybrid biocomputer.” According to a study published in Nature, this involves a merger of lab-grown human brain tissue combined with conventional circuits and artificial intelligence. The aim of this unusual combination is to create silicon chips fused with neurons derived from stem cells.
To be precise, Brainoware combines brain organoids—groups of human cells derived from stem cells that transform into “mini-brains” filled with neurons—with conventional electronic circuits. To manufacture this, researchers placed “a single organoid on a plate containing thousands of electrodes to connect the brain to the electrical circuits.” The circuits communicate with the brain organoid and “translate the information they want to input as an electrical impulse pattern.”
Brainoware is already capable of distinguishing between different human voices. It could be defined as brain tissue that learns and communicates with technology. To achieve this, the electronic set sensor detects the response of the mini-brain, which is then decoded using a trained machine learning algorithm. Essentially, human neurons, electronics, and AI merge to create a biomachine. Though it is still in a basic stage, it is a significant advancement.
For instance, this biomachine can be utilized to recognize human voices. Specifically, Brainoware was trained with 240 recordings of eight different people speaking, “translating the audio into electrical impulses to deliver it to the organoid.” The organic part reacted differently to each voice, generating a neuronal activity pattern that the AI learned to understand. Brainoware learned to identify voices with 78% accuracy.
For now, this hybrid brain is a concept for short-term practical use. Although previous studies demonstrated that two-dimensional cultures of neuronal cells could perform similar tasks, this is the first trial using a three-dimensional, trained mass of human brain cells. It could point to a future of biological computing, where “the speed and efficiency of the human brain” could trigger a highly powerful AI.
Arti Ahluwalia, a biomedical engineer at the University of Pisa, Italy, believes that this technology will shed more light on the human brain. Since brain organoids can mimic the nervous system’s control center in a way that simple cell cultures cannot, the researcher believes that Brainoware and the developments it can generate could help model and study neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
“The promise lies in using them to someday replace animal models of the brain,” Arti Ahluwalia told Nature.
However, using living cells for computing is not without problems. One of them is keeping the organoids alive. Cells must grow and be kept in incubators, something that will become more challenging as the organoids grow larger, and more complex tasks will require larger “brains,” said the engineer.