Human Brain Cells Could Power Computers

John Lister's picture

Human brain cells could power computers of the future, according to a new study. Researchers say they've already seen a bunch of brain cells in a petri dish learn to play the old video game Pong.

The bizarre-sounding concept already has a name: organoid intelligence, or OI for short. It's already prompted questions about the ethics involved.

While the concept sounds pretty disturbing, the reality wouldn't be quite as unsettling as it might seem. There's no suggestion we'll be sticking human skulls inside the desktop computer in our living room.

Instead, the idea is that brain cells, generated from stem cells, could be used to power machines known as biocomputers. They'd be used for specific purposes that make the most of using cells without being affected by the limitations.

Brains Use Less Power

Brains have several advantages over computers, some of them being more fundamental differences in how they work. The way brain cells create electrical patterns connecting neurons make them much better at learning independently and quickly recognizing patterns.

A classic example is the way a human can almost instantly tell whether an image they've never seen before is of a cat or a dog, a task that's still challenging for artificial intelligence tools.

The human brain is also incredibly energy efficient when it comes to processing and storing data compared with computers. (Source:

Video Tennis Proves Concept

A recent project involving John Hopkins University and Cortical Labs in Melbourne hooked up a mixture of mouse cells and stem cell-derived human brain cells to a set of electrodes. The researchers then set up an input system connected to the video game Pong.

The system fired electrodes on the left or right of the "brain" to show whether the ball was at the top or bottom of the screen, while the frequency of the firing showed how far the ball was from the paddle.

The system was then left to "learn" from these signals, eventually figuring out how its responses moved the paddle and affected the movement of the ball. Feedback from the electrodes essentially taught the "brain" how to return the ball in the game. (Source:

The researchers say that although this sounds like traditional artificial intelligence, the difference is that this isn't a computer simulating the way a brain works but rather replicating it.

There's still a long way to go however. The Pong experiment used around 800,000 mouse and human cells. Follow-up work to develop a bio computer will begin with 50,000 brain cells, with a long-term target of 10 million, similar to the brain power of a tortoise.

The researchers consider that the minimum required to build a useful biocomputer and even that would be a tiny fraction of the 80 billion or so cells in a human brain.

What's Your Opinion?

Is this worthwhile research? Are there any ethical concerns? Do you find such work intriguing, creepy or both?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (7 votes)


stooobeee's picture

Scalpels have always been too crude. But injecting particles in the right place at the right time has been in man's forethinking for many decades. God tells us, “In the last days knowledge shall increase.” Are we there with biocomputers?