The Biological Turk – Playing Pong in a Petri Dish with a Neural Net

Pong in a dish

Have you ever heard of the Turk, a 19th century mechanism with a turbaned chess head that was able to play against anyone? The tiny chessmaster was hidden inside. You could imagine him deadpanning \”Eh, it’s a livelihood.\”

There’s also its name-sake: Mechanical Turk, a 21st century service provided by Amazon that allows crowdsourced freelancers to markup images on the Web. The same glassy-eyed people might say, \”It is a living.\”

We have a new kind of Biological Tur. A mass of neurons mimics the human playing Pong, a classic computer game. Some neurons are grown from mouse precursor cells and others from human embryonic stem cells. They form a 800,000 cell mesh in a single layer called a biological network. This is housed in a giant dish called DishBrain. It interfaces with arrays electrodes which form an interface for silicon hardware. The minibrain is taught to control the paddle of a simulated table of ping-pong using software mounted on this hardware.