Thursday, January 21st, 2021

The Man Who’s Building a Computer Made of Brains

Published on March 1, 2016 by   ·   No Comments


Last month, Google’s AI division, DeepMind, announced that its computer had defeated Europe’s Go champion in five straight games. Go, a strategy game played on a 19×19 grid, is exponentially more difficult for a computer to master than chess—there are 20 possible moves to choose from at the start of a chess game compared to 361 moves in Go—and the announcement was lauded as another landmark moment in the evolution of artificial intelligence.

Google, Facebook, and IBM have all gone all-in on brain-like computers that promise to emulate the mind of a human. The ability to learn and recognize patterns is viewed as a key next step in the evolution of AI. But Oshiorenoya Agabi believes the brain-like processors are missing one key component: actual brains.

Or, at least, living neurons. His startup, Koniku, which just completed a stint at the biotech accelerator IndieBio, touts itself as “the first and only company on the planet building chips with biological neurons.” Rather than simply mimic brain function with chips, Agabi hopes to flip the script and borrow the actual material of human brains to create the chips. He’s integrating lab-grown neurons onto computer chips in an effort to make them much more powerful than their standard silicon forebears.

Koniku has raised nearly $6.3 million, Agabi says, and is continuing to raise funds. It has already landed customers in the aviation and pharmaceuticals industries, like AstraZeneca, the UK-based pharma company, Agabi says, and Boeing has signed on with a letter of intent to use the tech in chemical-detecting drones. The first batch of neuron-abetted chips are set to ship in the next few months. Agabi says that one customer, a drone company, hopes the processors will prove superior in detecting methane leaks in oil refineries. Another aims to use the processors to model the effect certain drugs will have on a human brain.

The future, Agabi believes, will run on a computer that’s much more alive.


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