Computers and processors in the near future might not have to be manufactured in a factory, they could be cultivated like cell samples in a lab. Researchers have received a major grant to try and literally grow a neural network in a lab.
New research from Lehigh University are going to try and create a computer that modelled on how the human brain and nervous system works—a neural network—using actual living cells, then program it to learning tasks and performing them.
According to a report put out by the University, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided to support this study and as a result put up more than $500,000 to develop this computer. This, as a part of their Understanding the Brain and the BRAIN Initiative.
"Recent developments in optogenetics, patterned optical stimulation, and high-speed optical detection enable simultaneous stimulation and recording of thousands of living neurons," says Xiaochen Gao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Lehigh University and principal investigator on the project.
"...scientists already know that connected biological living neurons naturally exhibit the ability to perform computations and to learn," he said. As of now, the team will build an experimental testbed that will enable researchers optical stimulations and detection of the activity in a living network of neurons, and we'll develop algorithms to train it."
As of now, notes a report on the upcoming by Futurism points out that there is little information about how exactly the researchers are going to go about "growing" this computer. Living cells will be used, but what exactly they are looking at, or how they plan on doing it, is still a mystery. What they did say, however, is that "optogenetics" will be used. This is a way to control cells and program them using light. The team is apparently working on a way to bring together hybrid brains and organic brains, as to how they are going to do this, is still anyone's guess, notes the report.
One of the concerns of growing computers out of petri dishes, points out the report, is that, being organic, could it possibly experience consciousness?