Thursday, September 04, 2008

Building Brains

Scientists are hard at work creating brains which can power computers, projects using rat and cat brains as the bio-electronic basis. The Pentagon has one of the projects underway now:

The first nine-month phase of the program will focus on designing, fabricating, and characterizing synaptic and neural elements and combining them into a high-density, interconnecting microelectronic "fabric," which will be incorporated into a more complex system-level fabric design...

In the following 15-month phase, HRL [a joint venture between Boeing and General Motors] will combine the synaptic and neural elements to fabricate and demonstrate "cortical microcircuits" that can model various lower-level brain functions and actually "learn" by interacting with the environment."

Meanwhile, British researchers showed off their robots which are controlled by cortical tissue grown from rat brains and then bonded with electronics:

To create the "brain", the neural cortex from a rat fetus is surgically removed and disassociating enzymes applied to it to disconnect the neurons from each other. The researchers then deposit a slim layer of these isolated neurons into a nutrient-rich medium on a bank of electrodes, where they start reconnecting. They do this by growing projections that reach out to touch the neighbouring neurons. "It's just fascinating that they do this," says Steve Potter of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who pioneered the field of neurally controlled animats."


"Because it is living material, it needs to be kept at body temperature, so the control system is placed in a temperature-controlled cabinet the size of a microwave oven and communicates with the robot over a Bluetooth radio link."

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