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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scientists build Artificial Intelligence in test tubes

Scientists have now taken a major step towards creating artificial intelligence, not in a robot or a silicon chip, but in a test tube.

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a circuit of interacting molecules that can recall memories based on incomplete DNA patterns, just like the human brain.

Supercomputers, robots and the human brain represent the artifacts of a long evolutionary chain stretching back to a soupy mass of molecules floating in Earth's oceans billions of years ago. Now researchers have gone back to the primordial ooze by creating a new type of artificial intelligence based on DNA inside of test tubes.

The neural network is made up of just four artificial neurons, as opposed to the human brain's 100 billion real ones.

To test the network, the scientists played a game with it. That game started with the network being trained to "know" four scientists, each one identifiable by a unique combination of yes/no answers to the same four questions (such as "Is the scientist British?"). Human players then chose one of those scientists, and provided the network with an incomplete set of the identifying answers. They did this by dropping DNA strands that were programmed to correspond to those answers, into water in a test tube that contained the neurons.

Communicating through fluorescent signals, the network would then either correctly identify the chosen scientist, it would indicate that it didn't have enough data to identify just one scientist, or it would state that the data didn't match any of the scientists.

Biochemical systems with artificial intelligence — or at least some basic, decision—making capabilities — could have powerful applications in medicine, chemistry, and biological research, the researchers say.

In the future, such systems could operate within cells, helping to answer fundamental biological questions or diagnose a disease.

The human brain consists of 100 billion neurons, but creating a network with just 40 of these DNA—based neurons — 10 times larger than the demonstrated network — would be a challenge, according to the researchers.

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