Using techniques from the emerging field of optogenetics, a group of researchers from the RMIT University in Australia claims to have built a device that mimics the ways in which the brain stores information.
Thanks to these special techniques, researchers can use light to manipulate neurons, essentially to turn them on or off like a switch. The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials. It is a chip made from an ultra-thin material that responds to different wavelengths of light by modifying an electrical resistance.
According to Sumeet Walia, head of the research team, this new device could be used in the field of artificial intelligence, in particular that which tends to imitate the functionality of the brain: “Our optogenetically inspired chip imitates the fundamental biology of the best computer of nature: the human brain. Being able to store, erase and process information is fundamental for computing, and the brain does it in an extremely efficient way,” says Walia, confident about the possibility of simulating the neural approach of the brain via this chip.
Thought naturally goes to bionic brains, something that for the moment still belongs to science fiction but that the researcher himself brings up in relation to any future applications of such a technology. Moreover, it could also have positive consequences in more practical areas or in any case closer to everyday reality, as Taimur Ahmed, the study’s lead author, admits. The technology on which this is based could in fact be used to better understand how the brain works and perhaps to create new therapies for those suffering from cognitive disorders.