Technology: Australian Research Team Awarded $600,000 Grant to Explore AI-Human Brain Cell Merger

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Can AI merge with human brain cells? An Australian research team secures a $600,000 grant to explore this groundbreaking technology.

In a groundbreaking move at the intersection of science and technology, a team of researchers from Monash University and Cortical Labs has been awarded a substantial grant of $600,000 by the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) and the Department of Defence. 

The funding is intended to support their cutting-edge research into merging human brain cells with artificial intelligence (AI), a field known as synthetic biological intelligence.

DishBrain: The Fusion of Human Brain Cells and AI

At the core of this research lies the creation of DishBrain, a remarkable system that harnesses the power of live, lab-grown brain cells to accomplish tasks traditionally performed by AI. One notable feat achieved by DishBrain is the ability to play the vintage video game, Pong. 

The technology utilises a multi-electrode array to provide electrical feedback to the brain cells, effectively allowing them to respond to gameplay, simulating the “paddle” hitting the “ball.”

The Quest for Programmable Biological Computing Platforms

According to Associate Professor Adeel Razi from Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, the team’s pioneering work aims to merge the fields of artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, creating programmable biological computing platforms. 

Such platforms promise “better AI machines” with the ability to learn throughout their lifetime. This potential breakthrough is hoped to address a significant limitation of current AI systems known as “catastrophic forgetting,” where AI tends to forget information from previous tasks when confronted with new ones.

Unlocking Lifelong Learning in AI

One of the key objectives of the research is to unlock the potential of lifelong learning in AI. Unlike traditional AI systems, human brains possess a remarkable capacity for lifelong learning, enabling individuals to gain new skills, adapt to change, and apply existing knowledge to novel tasks. 

By integrating this characteristic into AI systems, the researchers believe it could lead to revolutionary advancements in various fields, including technology for self-driving cars, autonomous drones, delivery robots, brain-machine interfaces, and drug discovery.

“This new technology capability in the future may eventually surpass the performance of existing, purely silicon-based hardware,” stated Prof. Razi, emphasising the transformative impact this research could have across multiple industries.

Calls for Recognition of Potential Risks and Global Collaboration

While the grant has sparked excitement in the research community, it has also drawn attention to concerns about the potential risks associated with advanced AI technologies. Addressing these concerns, an organisation known as Australians 

AI Safety has written a letter urging the government to recognise and manage the “catastrophic or existential consequences” that AI could pose. The group also calls for increased support for AI safety research and AI safety auditors’ training.

 “What’s alarming is that even deliberate and methodical bodies like the United Nations have recognised the potential for catastrophic or existential risks from AI, but the Australian government won’t,” said Greg Sadler, an Australians For AI Safety spokesman.

Australia’s Position in AI Development

The current state of AI regulation and safety in Australia has been a subject of debate, with concerns about the nation’s readiness to address potential risks adequately. Industry, Science, and Technology Minister Ed Husic has announced a government review of AI and emphasised the need for modern laws to govern modern technology. 

However, the urging from Australians For AI Safety highlights the perceived gap between Australia and other countries in addressing the risks posed by advanced AI.

 “Australia is falling behind in paying attention to AI dangers,” Mr Sadler warned, urging the government to take proactive measures.

Looking Ahead: A Future of Enhanced AI

As the Australian research team embarks on its quest to merge AI with human brain cells, the implications of their work could be far-reaching. The potential benefits are substantial, from advancing machine learning capabilities to revolutionising technological applications. 

However, it is clear that addressing the associated risks and collaborating on a global scale will be paramount to ensuring a safe and responsible implementation of these groundbreaking technologies.

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