‘Brain-Like Computer’ That Learns By Association Like An Animal Developed By Scientists

by : Hannah Smith on : 30 Apr 2021 12:33
'Brain-Like Computer' That Learns By Association Like An Animal Developed By ScientistsPixabay/Universal

Scientists have developed a device that can learn and process information in the same way as a brain, in what could be a major breakthrough for modern computing.

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong say the ‘brain-like device’ is capable of learning by association through what they call ‘synaptic transistors’ that can process and store knowledge and information in the same way humans do.


According to the researchers, the device is theoretically able to ‘directly interface with living tissue,’ a quality considered ‘critical for next-generation bioelectronics’. Essentially, by learning in the same way we do, the computer will be able to store and process data using the same system, rather than the two separate systems currently required.

Northwestern UniversityNorthwestern University

The device is modelled on an old Russian experiment known as ‘Pavlov’s dog,’ in which a Russian physiologist trained a dog to associated a bell with food. In this study, the scientists conditioned the ‘organic electrochemical material’ by flashing an LED light and then immediately applying pressure to the device. According to research published in the journal Nature Communications, after just five training cycles the device was able to automatically trigger a signal for pressure upon seeing a light.

Jonathan Rivnay, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern University who co-led the study, explained that this new device would allow bioelectronics to overcome some of the limitations of modern computers.

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He said in a press release:

Although the modern computer is outstanding, the human brain can easily outperform it in some complex and unstructured tasks, such as pattern recognition, motor control and multisensory integration.

This is thanks to the plasticity of the synapse, which is the basic building block of the brain’s computational power. These synapses enable the brain to work in a highly parallel, fault tolerant and energy-efficient manner.

The ‘synaptic transistors’ developed by the researchers effectively mimic the network of neurons found in our brains, and are described by Rivnay as ‘an organic, plastic transistor that mimics key functions of a biological synapse.


By replicating the human brain’s style of learning, this new device will be both more energy efficient, and more ‘biocompatible,’ The Independent reports. Researchers envision the device, which is made from plastic-style soft polymer, as having future uses in everything from wearable technology to implantable devices.

In comparison, current systems used by computers to replicate the way our brains learn by association use massive amounts of energy, and are far more limited in their potential use.

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The Independent
  1. The Independent