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Scientists Teach Human Brain Cells In Petri Dish To Play ‘Pong’ Better Than AI

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Scientists Teach Human Brain Cells In Petri Dish To Play ‘Pong’ Better Than AI

You know, I’m quite pleased with the fact that I have a human brain. Generally find it works for me quite well. Now listen, I’m not one to rain on anyone’s parade, or downplay anyone’s achievements, but I’ll admit that I’m ever so slightly annoyed at the fact that a literal clump of cells in a petri dish is probably better than me at Pong.


Cortical Labs is working on integrating biological neurons with traditional, silicon based computing hardware. Basically, mashing actual brain stuff and technology stuff together, in what can only be the beginning of a sentient robot uprising. Brain cells are grown on microelectronic arrays, so that they can be stimulated, and the resulting hybrid chips are supposedly able to learn and restructure themselves to overcome problems, which is as oddly inspirational as it is terrifying.

While you're here, check out this amazing real life recreation of Wheatley from Portal 2! I wonder if he's any good at Pong...



To prove just how fast these little brain lumps can learn, Cortical Labs has set them up on Pong, and the results are pretty amazing. According to the team, a typical AI takes about 90 minutes to learn how to play the game, whereas the so called “DishBrain” only takes five. Apparently, a good AI would still wipe the floor with the cells once it was up to speed, but as someone who was always embarrassingly bad at Pong, the fact that there’d be a chance of losing to a chunk of brain bits haunts me.

The way this works is by using electric signals to essentially tell the DishBrain where the ball is in the game, so that the lil neurons could move the paddles to hit it. The chief scientific officer of Cortical Labs, Brett Kagan, explained that the cells essentially think that they themselves are the paddles: “We often refer to them as living in the Matrix,” he said. “When they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle.”


Apparently, not only is this a massive step forward for the competitive Pong scene (is that a thing? It should be), but science in general, as it could even lead to the creation of synthetic brains. Which, need I remind you, is still just ever so slightly concerning. I don’t even want to think about what would happen if we had brain lumps running loose in Fortnite

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo, Atari

Topics: Youtube, Retro Gaming

Catherine Lewis
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