Artificial Brain
AI Breakthrough: Scientists Mimic Brain with Water-Based Device Pixabay

Scientists have achieved a significant step towards creating artificial brain cells by developing an "iontronic memristor" which mimics a synapse, the connection point between neurons.

An international team from Utrecht University (Netherlands) and Sogang University (South Korea) has created artificial neurological junctions, replicating synapses using a simple water and salt solution. This development is seen as a significant breakthrough, opening doors to the creation of advanced computers that rival the human brain's processing power. The project, led by Tim Kamsma of Utrecht University, has essentially created an artificial synapse, paving the way for brain-like computers.

What makes the iontronic memristor unique compared to past attempts at mimicking the brain? It's the first device replicating the brain's fundamental process of using ions to transmit information. The iontronic memristor features a cone-shaped microfluidic channel filled with a saltwater solution. Unlike traditional silicon and metal methods, this device relies entirely on water-based components.

Unlike conventional computers that rely on solid-state materials, the human brain utilises a watery solution of ions for information processing. This breakthrough in iontronic memristors paves the way for computers that mimic how a real brain works.

The recent study was included in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). There it was detailed how the iontronic memristor, a tiny device (around 150-200 micrometres wide, comparable to a few human hairs), utilised an internal saltwater solution. Kamsma described the iontronic memristor as a significant step towards computers that replicate the communication patterns of the human brain and use the same water-based medium.

Here's How the Iontronic Memristor Works

Upon receiving an electrical signal, the dissolved ions within the saltwater solution begin migrating up the cone-shaped channel. This movement alters the ion concentration and conductivity, ultimately affecting how the device conducts electricity.

Like the human brain, where electrical signals modify neural pathways, the iontronic memristor exhibits a memory function. The device "remembers" the amount of electrical charge that has passed through it by recording changes in ion movement within the channel—variations in the electrical signal cause corresponding variations in ion migration patterns.

Our brain cells strengthen or weaken connections based on the electrical signals triggered by emotions. This is where ions play a crucial role. The iontronic memristor, with its fluid-filled channels, remarkably replicates this mechanism by using similar ion movement to modulate electrical conductivity.

This is why it's considered the closest attempt to mimic the brain's communication patterns in an artificial system.

Artificial Brain

So, what is an artificial brain? An artificial brain is a theoretical system combining software and hardware designed to replicate the human brain's learning, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities. This field of research, known as artificial intelligence (AI), is actively exploring ways to achieve this ambitious goal.

Philosophers and AI researchers also use thought experiments to explore the possibility of creating artificial intelligence (AI) that could rival human capabilities in all aspects.

Scientists are pursuing a long-term goal of creating machines with behaviour comparable to animals possessing complex nervous systems. This ultimate ambition of achieving human-level intelligence in machines is known as strong AI.

While achieving artificial general intelligence (AGI) – a machine with human-like capabilities – remains a distant goal, significant progress is being made in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) like Elon Musk's neurotechnology company Neuralink.

In January, Elon Musk's Neuralink company achieved a milestone by implanting its wireless brain chip in a human for the first time. Neuroscientist Moran Cerf speculates that Neuralink technology might one day hold the key to unlocking new avenues in cancer treatment, though much research is needed to explore this possibility.