Petri Dish of brain cells taught to play Pong faster than Artificial Intelligence

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Have you ever been in a gaming slump and thought: “I may suck at this but I bet I could beat a Petri Dish full of brain cells at Pong!” No? That makes one of us! Anyways, it turns out that a little plastic saucer full of cells can probably beat you at Pong.

Petri Dish of brain cells to play Pong

Reported by NewScientist, researchers at biotechnology startup Cortical Labs have created lab-grown “mini brains”. The lab-grown brains consist of 800,000 to 1,000,000 human brain cells grown in a petri dish.


The cells are taught to play a simplified version of Pong. Instead of a two-player game bouncing a ball from side-to-side, the cells play a single-player version. During play, electric signals tell the mini-brains where the ball is. In response, fired neurons send electrical signals to move the paddle.

“We often refer to them as living in the Matrix,” chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs, Brett Kagan, hauntingly told the outlet in a big WTF moment. “When they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle... We think it’s fair to call them cyborg brains.”

In a video, a digital map of the cells shows how they react while playing a video game. As the ball moves, individual sections of cells activate to control the paddle. In the video, this is represented through bar graphs moving up and down.


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They learn faster than AI

During the testing period, it was discovered that it takes far less time to teach mini-brains compared to artificial intelligence. While it can take AI hours if not days to learn how to play games such as Pong, it took the human cells just five minutes to learn.

“The amazon aspect is how quickly it learns, in five minutes, in real time,” Kagan said. “That’s really an amazing thing that biology can do.”


In the future, Kagan hopes the technology could be used to create technology that merges traditional silicon with biology. By creating “cyborg” biotech, future technology could help to continue technological expansion as silicon gets more expensive to develop.