Researchers successfully connect biological and artificial neurons online

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Researchers successfully connect biological and artificial neurons online

3 universities in as many countries came together to create a hub of artificial synapses made using cutting-edge nanotechnology

It was only a few months ago that I wrote about Scientists who developed artificial neurons that mimic our brain cells. Scientists at the University of Bath, Universities of Bristol, Zurich & Auckland collaborated on this effort where the behavior of our brain cells was replicated on tiny silicon chips.

As we enter the age of supercomputers, they are still not powerful enough to match the brainpower of biological neurons that power the organ. The neurons communicate via tiny gaps known as synapses. These neurons have a dual mechanism of storing and processing information. Artificial neurons, like the ones developed late last year, have shown to be far more powerful than the traditional computer chips.

The study involved researchers working at three different universities — University of Padova in Italy, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich & University of Southampton in the UK. Biological rat neurons were grown in a lab in Italy, while artificial neurons on Silicon microchips were manufactured at the Swiss institute.

Both these technologies were brought together at the British university where the two technologies communicated (figure below) through nanoelectronic artificial synapses, known as “memristors” — short for memory resistors, it is a technology that the scientists have been working to develop since 2008.

Image Credit: U. of Southampton News release

“We are very excited with this new development. On one side it sets the basis for a novel scenario that was never encountered during natural evolution, where biological and artificial neurons are linked together and communicate across global networks; laying the foundations for the Internet of Neuro-electronics.

~Lead Researcher Professor Prodromakis

Memristors are considered an exciting innovation since they have the potential to create brain-like computers. But unlike flash memory, they’re fast and unlike random access memory (RAM), they remember whatever information they hold, even when they lose power. Apart from this, they also require less energy to run, rarely crash, and are immune to radiation.

The Southampton researchers recorded Spiking events when the rat neurons traveled over the internet to the memristors. This spiking activity was sent back to artificial neurons in Zurich. The process also worked in the other direction — from Zurich to Padova. Also, biological and artificial components could perform bi-directional communication.

The team expects that the study would accelerate the pace of innovation and scientific advancement in the field of neural interfaces. The seamless ability to connect disparate technologies across the globe would not only provide a way to democratize these technologies, but also remove a significant barrier towards collaboration.

Funding of the research was provided by the EU Future and Emerging Technologies program as well as the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK. And the complete research was published in Scientific Reports.