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Human brain stem cells to be used to power AI system

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Scientists are embarking on a £3.5m project to determine whether human brain stem cells can be used to power artificial intelligence (AI) devices.

The Neu-ChiP project, which is led by researchers at Aston University, will assess whether the cells can be harnessed to 'supercharge' computers’ ability to learn, whilst also dramatically cutting energy use.

The three-year study will start with attempting to grow human brain stem cells on a microchip, which will then be taught to solve problems from data.

Current electronic approaches to machine learning have limits, requiring ever-growing computing power and high energy demands.

The recent trend towards ‘neuromorphic computing’, which aims to mimic human neural activity electronically, is hampered by the inherent limitations of conventional electronics.

In contrast, human brain cells effortlessly combine these functions and have extremely low power demands, requiring only a small volume of a nutrient-rich solution to operate.

The team will layer networks of stem cells resembling the human cortex onto microchips and will then stimulate the cells by firing changing patterns of light beams at them.

3D computer modelling will allow them to observe any changes the cells undergo, to see how adaptable they are. This imitates the ‘plasticity’ of the human brain, which can rapidly adapt to new information.

Aston University’s professor David Saad said: “Our aim is to harness the unrivalled computing power of the human brain to dramatically increase the ability of computers to help us solve complex problems.

“We believe this project has the potential to break through current limitations of processing power and energy consumption to bring about a paradigm shift in machine learning technology.”

Researcher Dr Rhein Parri said: “We are very excited to have won support from the European Commission for this ambitious project. Our international team will combine their expertise and work together to develop technology that we expect to provide great future benefits for science and society.”

In September, University of Sheffield researchers developed prototype 3D-printed implants which link brains directly to computers.

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