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Producing computer chips from human brain cells: Ethical question marks

Producing computer chips from human brain cells: Ethical question marks - Photo 1.

This is an invention to exploit the inherent intelligence of brain cells – Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Cortical Labs based in Melbourne (Australia) have developed groups of neurons (brain cells) integrated into a computer chip. This invention aims to exploit the inherent intelligence of brain cells, which silicon cannot achieve.

According to the news site Techxplore, in the Cortical lab’s Dishbrain (control network with biological neurons) system, the neurons act like wires that connect to other components of the system. The main advantage of this approach is that the neurons can change shape, grow, regenerate, or die as required by the system.

Dishbrain can learn to play the video game Pong (arcade game) faster than conventional AI systems.

The developers of Dishbrain said: “There has never been a similar invention before. This is a completely new way of being. It is a combination of silicon and neurons.”

Cortical Labs believes that its silicon-neuron hybrid chips could be the key to complex computations that today’s computers and AI cannot generate.

Koniku Technology Company (USA) built a computer from nerve cells grown in the laboratory. Koniku believes its technology will revolutionize several industries including agriculture, healthcare, military technology and airport security.

Companies don’t need to take brain tissue samples from donors, but can simply grow the nerve cells they need in the lab from normal skin cells.

However, this raises questions about the consent of those who provide tissue samples for research and technology development. Did they know their cells were used to create the neural computer? Do they need to know this, for their consent to be legally valid?

Can Apple and Google create super-fast computers using the best and brightest human neurons? Can someone preserve the tissues of deceased geniuses like physicist Albert Einstein to create specialized limited-edition neurocomputers?

Such questions relate to the broader ethical themes of “exploitation and reparation”.

The world is in the early stages of neural computing, and there is time to think about these issues, before products move from science fiction to the stores.

The world-famous lawsuit involves Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who died in 1951. Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, took samples of cancer cells while she was alive for research. The hospital then shared this sample with other researchers for extensive medical and commercial use without her knowledge or permission.

Today, Henrietta’s cells are still widely used in applications, generating huge revenues for pharmaceutical companies, including the recent development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

To date, the Lacks family has not received any compensation.

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