No, you didn’t accidentally click on the webpage of our sister site, The Onion. A scientist really grew a brain in a lab and, unfortunately, it’s a gamer.
According to the BBC, Dr. Brett Kagan, the chief scientific officer at Australian research company Cortical Labs, assembled a small brain in a lab using stem cells from both human and embryonic mice, about 800,000 in total. The company’s research paper claims the resulting neural network “learned” how to play a simulation of Atari’s 1972 tennis game, Pong. By connecting the lab-brain to the Pong-like simulation using electrodes, Kagan et al claim that the brain cells were able to learn how to “play” the game in just five minutes, though it’s still a noob that often misses. Kagan told the BBC that he hopes the results from the lab-grown brain will help further research in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
“When people look at tissues in a dish, at the moment they are seeing if there is activity or no activity. But the purpose of brain cells is to process information in real time,” Kagan told the BBC. “Tapping into their true function unlocks so many more research areas that can be explored in a comprehensive way.”
Now that his team’s forever corrupted the mind of the lab-grown brain into becoming a gamer, Kagan told the BBC that the next step is to test how alcohol affects its MLG pro Pong skillz. That’s right, beer pong for science. Bet you wish you paid attention in grade school. However, it’s not all fun and gamer games for Kegan and his lab-brain. According to the BBC, if the brain’s inebriated performance is the same as when sober, the efficacy of Kagan’s research will be “underscored.” So no pressure, lab-brain, just be sure to shotgun some Pabst Blue Ribbon like a college student on a bender and you’ll do fine. Probably.
When Kotaku reached out to Allan Alcorn, the creator of Pong, for his reaction to the scientific breakthrough, he replied saying “The original pong was $.25 per play. For brain cells we’ll cut that $.10"
While the brainlet’s “learning” how to play Pong is impressive, despite its mid-no-thumbs-having-ass skills, some within the scientific community think Kagan is going a step too far in claiming the brain cells are sentient, since that would imply that this petri dish spawn of Mother Brain has the capacity to feel.
“We could find no better term to describe the device,’’ Kagan said. ‘’It is able to take in information from an external source, process it and then respond to it in real time.”
Before you worry about this getting too creepy, Kagan told the BBC that his team will be working with bioethicists to ensure their experiments don’t accidentally develop consciousness. That’s good. Well, I await a lab-grown brain entering the EVO tournament in a few years.
Update: 10/14/2022 4:05 p.m. ET: Article has been updated to include a reaction from Pong creator Allan Alcorn.