Human brain cells grown in Matrix-like jars to feed AI

After creating the world’s first bioprocessor, a Swiss startup aims to reduce AI energy consumption by plugging it into human-like brains. It remains unknown whether the organoids are sentient or not.

Human brains function by electrical signals sent by billions of neurons, which makes them technically compatible with computing.

FinalSpark, a Swiss biocomputing startup, has launched Neuroplatform, an online platform that offers remote access to human brain organoids as bioprocessors. The company claims it is the first platform in the world to provide online access to biological neurons grown in vitro.

The company says its Neuroplatform, due to its low power consumption, could reduce the environmental impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI). FinalSpark highlights that these bioprocessors consume significantly less power than conventional digital processors.

Current AI training methods consume enormous amounts of energy – a single LLM like GPT-3 requires approximately 10GWh, which is about 6,000 times greater energy consumption than the average European citizen uses in a whole year. On the other hand, the human brain operates on just 20 watts.

How does a bioprocessor work?

Scientists made the bioprocessor work by placing brain tissue in setups called Multi-Electron Arrays (MEAs). Brain cells are kept in incubators at around body temperature, supplied with water and nutrients, and protected from bacterial or viral contamination.

(A) Protocol used for the generation of forebrain organoids. (B) Representative images showing various stages of organoid formation. (C) Image of a whole organoid taken with scanning electron microscope. (D) Microscope view of the organoid(in white) sitting on the electrodes of the MEA, and the membrane. (E) Overview of the MEA, where the 32 electrodes are visible as 4 sets of 8 electrodes each. An organoid is placed atop of each set of 8 electrodes, visible as a darker area. Source: research paper

Each MEA contains four brain organoids connected to eight electrodes. These electrodes simultaneously stimulate the organoids and record the data they process.

Data is transferred via digital-to-analog converters with 16-bit resolution and a 30 kHz frequency. A microfluidic system sustains the MEAs, and cameras monitor their overall operation.

On the software side, Neuroplatform includes a stack that allows users to input variables for computations and to read and interpret the output data.

Disposable brains

The setup's life expectancy is up to several months. The cells can run the processor until death, causing up to one hour of downtime due to the need to replace the organoids.

The scientists in the research paper write that the Neuroplatform was utilized with over 1,000 brain organoids over the past three years, enabling the collection of more than 18 terabytes of data.

It remains unknown whether the brain organoids are or could be sentient. The ethical questions of augmenting human biology and transhumanism are still a grey area, leaving skeptics to address serious questions of what it means to be human in the future world.

Brains are becoming THE thing in the tech world

The human brain is an area that’s gaining increasing attention from the tech world. While FinalSpark uses the brain to train AI, Elon Musk's Neuralink is experimenting with brain implants to control devices.

Neuralink's electrodes, intricately embedded into nerve threads, can decipher these neuronal signals, which are converted into motor control commands. These commands can interact with external digital devices such as computers or smartphones or potentially initiate bodily functions like voluntary muscle movement.

In 2023, Neuralink gained the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval to study human brain implants. The first implantation was achieved earlier this year.

In May, reports about a malfunction of an implant in a patient’s head surfaced.