Futuristic Biocomputers Will Run on AI-trained Brain Cells

Johns Hopkins scientists are developing 'organoid intelligence'

Helen Hwang, Contributor

March 3, 2023

2 Min Read
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At a Glance

  • Researchers are developing 'organoid intelligence,' a biocomputer run by human brain cells and trained by AI.
  • Scientists have already been experimenting with brain organoids.
  • Organoid intelligence could accelerate drug testing research for neurodegeneration and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Researchers are developing a 'biocomputer' run by human brain cells and trained by AI.

The new field, called “organoid intelligence,” is being developed by scientists at Johns Hopkins University. The team expects this innovative field will far exceed current computing capabilities and lay the groundwork for new areas of study. The findings were published in Frontiers in Science.

“Computing and artificial intelligence have been driving the technology revolution but they are reaching a ceiling. Biocomputing is an enormous effort of compacting computational power and increasing its efficiency to push past our current technological limits,” said project leader, Thomas Hartung, professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Whiting School of Engineering.

Scientists have already been experimenting with brain organoids, tiny orbs that contain neurons and other characteristics that are capable of basic functions like remembering and learning. For the last 20 years, they have been growing tissues in labs that mimic full-grown organs, to conduct experiments on lungs, kidneys, and other organs. This method avoids using animal or human testing.

Hartung believes brain organoids could be the “biological hardware” that can power future computers, eliminating the energy-consumption concerns associated with supercomputers. Brain cells are better at making complex logical decisions, like differentiating a cat from a dog, while computers calculate data and numbers faster than the human brain.

“The brain is still unmatched by modern computers. Frontier, the latest supercomputer in Kentucky, is a $600 million, 6,800-square-foot installation. Only in June of last year, it exceeded for the first time the computational capacity of a single human brain — but using a million times more energy,” explained Hartung.

He plans on scaling up brain organoid production and training the cells with AI to create biocomputers that can provide for better processing power, computing speed, storage capabilities, and data efficiency.

Furthermore, organoid intelligence could accelerate drug testing research for neurodegeneration and neurodevelopmental disorders, according to project co-leader, Lena Smirnova, Johns Hopkins assistant professor of environmental health and engineering.

“We want to compare brain organoids from typically developed donors versus brain organoids from donors with autism. The tools we are developing towards biological computing are the same tools that will allow us to understand changes in neuronal networks specific for autism, without having to use animals or to access patients,” said Smirnova.

About the Author(s)

Helen Hwang

Contributor, AI Business

Helen Hwang is an award-winning journalist, author, and mechanical engineer. She writes about technology, health care, travel, and food. She's based in California.

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