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Lab-grown brain cells have learnt how to play Pong

To me, to you.

Researchers have taught lab-grown brain cells how to play Pong.

Scientists at Australian company Cortical Labs, which which conducts research into the use of biology in AI, reported their findings yesterday in Neuron, a peer-reviewed neuroscience journal.

Their paper, titled "In vitro neurons learn and exhibit sentience when embodied in a simulated game-world", claimed the cultivated brain showed "apparent learning within five minutes of real-time gameplay".

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The brain was grown using a mixture of human stem cells and mice embryos, and the system of 800,000 cells was named DishBrain by the researchers. DishBrain was then hooked up to simulation of Pong via electrodes, and electrical signals were used to represent the gameplay.

By changing the signal DishBrain received when it managed to hit or missed the ball, the experiment suggested it learnt to hit the ball more when provided feedback on how well it was playing.

Self-admittedly, the brain cells didn't play Pong very well, but the results showed its success rate was "well above random chance".

The online paper includes a representative video of DishBrain playing Pong. It may look like just a regular game, but when you think about how it was conducted it's pretty amazing.

Speaking to the BBC, chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs and one of the paper's co-authors Dr Brett Kagan said the team plan to test how alcohol affects DishBrain's ability to play Pong. If it reacts in a similar way to a human brain, DishBrain could be an excellent "experimental stand-in" for researchers. Kagan stated the ultimate hope for DishBrain is that it could be used to "test treatments for neurodegenerative diseases", like Alzheimer's.