Almost everyone can play Pong, the classic table tennis arcade game. No seriously, even monkeys can play it, with the right equipment. And artificial intelligence can play Pong, obviously – video game AI can do much more complex tasks than following a pixel ball across the screen.
Teaching AI to play Pong from scratch usually takes about 90 minutes. An impressive achievement in an hour and a half. But apparently a bunch of brain cells (yes, literally a bunch of brain cells) can be taught to play Pong in just five minutes. For those staying on top of things at home, that’s about 5 percent of the time it takes AI to learn the game.
If the very idea of ”teaching” dislocated brain cells to do anything seems strange to you, join the club. As Australia-based Cortical Labs told New Scientist, the neurons in Petri dishes are examined to observe how networks form and interact with stimuli. The dishes themselves conduct electricity through the networks of the brain cells; these signals can then be used to change the behavior of networks. In a sense, they become living computer chips.
The game will be – As Brett Kagan, Chief Scientific Officer of Cortical Labs explains, these neurons are more than just a deposit of brain cells on a bowl. You are a network capable of learning and getting things done.
“We often refer to them as living in the Matrix,” says Kagan. “When they’re in the game, they think they’re the paddle.”
Kagan and his team are able to educate the neural network (which, by the way, they call “DishBrain”) through electrical stimulation. The electrical signals tell the DishBrain where the ball is and in just five minutes the DishBrain finds out how to move its “paddle” to hit the ball. The network of cells will the paddle.
AI has a way to go – So as not to denigrate the experiments of others, but the AI currently looks like small fries compared to DishBrain. Pong is an easy game to learn, but five minutes of study time is really impressive. Sure, all inclusive can drive delivery vans without any problems – but just imagine how much faster DishBrain could learn the same task with the right inputs.
DishBrain is just a lab experiment right now, but the Cortical Labs team sees this success as a step towards developing fully synthetic brains. These brains could theoretically outsmart even the best AI on the market. Which is both exciting and very worrying, there AI is pretty damn smart. A full-fledged DishBrain could conquer the world.