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Surprising Science

Synthetic Brain Begun with Nanotechnology

Artificial brains have long been a central theme in science fiction but they inched one step closer to reality at the University of Southern California where researches have created synthetic synapses. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Electrical engineer at the University of Southern California, Alice Parker has spent the last five years studying the use of carbon nanotubes to build an artificial brain. A recent breakthrough occurred in her research when she created an artificial synapse—the information exchange points that exist along neurons in the brain. It is a big first step toward creating a synthetic brain, said Parker—one that models the biology of a human brain. Once artificial synapses have been created, they can be grouped together to imitate the 10,000 synapses on each neuron, creating a small portion of the biology essential to a working human brain. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Mechanical efficiency on very small scales is the promise of nanotechnology. While it has already been used in the medical field, more weighty implications will follow from this budding industry. One will be the creation of artificial intelligence. With Parker’s synthetic synapse, an artificial brain is conceptually possible. But does a machine that adapts and learns like humans thereby become something more than a machine—a human even? Difficult moral and legal questions await the coming age when humans will increasingly interface with machines and visa versa. 


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