A real neural network

Paul Raven @ 23-03-2011

And today’s award for Endearingly Punning Post Headline of the Day goes to my good buddy m1k3y, who has graced grinding.be with a piece titled “Scientists train mouse nerves to grow through series of tubes“. The source for it is this Science News post, which explains how some clever folk have managed to encourage mouse neurons to grow their way along microscopic tubes of semiconductor material, making a crude self-assembling network. But don’t panic: there’s been no firing up of cyber-rodent self-awareness. Yet.

When the team seeded areas outside the tubes with mouse nerve cells the cells went exploring, sending their threadlike projections into the tubes and even following the curves of helical tunnels, the researchers report in an upcoming ACS Nano.

“They seem to like the tubes,” says biomedical engineer Justin Williams, who led the research. The approach offers a way to create elaborate networks with precise geometries, says Williams. “Neurons left to their own devices will kind of glom on to one another or connect randomly to other cells, neither of which is a good model for how neurons work.”

At this stage, the researchers have established that nerve cells are game for exploring the tiny tubes, which seem to be biologically friendly, and that the cell extensions will follow the network to link up physically. But it isn’t clear if the nerves are talking to each other, sending signals the way they do in the body. Future work aims to get voltage sensors and other devices into the tubes so researchers can eavesdrop on the cells. The confining space of the little tunnels should be a good environment for listening in, perhaps allowing researchers to study how nerve cells respond to potential drugs or to compare the behavior of healthy neurons with malfunctioning ones such as those found in people with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s.

No radical melding of meat and machine, then, but I suppose the coexistence of living cells and semiconductors has to be a step in that direction…

Moore’s Law gets a new lease of life

Paul Raven @ 22-02-2009

digital camera CCD chipGood news for Kurzweilian Singularitarians and flop-junkies – Moore’s Law has been looking increasingly likely to derail as we approach the lowest practical limit for semiconductor miniaturization, but newly announced research means there’s life in the old dog yet:

Two US groups have announced transistors almost 1000 times smaller than those in use today, and a [nano-scale magnet-based] version of flash memory that could store all the books in the US Library of Congress in a square 4 inches (10 cm) across.


Using 3-nanometre magnets, an array could store 10 terabits (roughly 270 standard DVDs) per square inch, says Russell, who is now working to perfect magnets small enough to cram 100 terabits into a square inch.

“Currently, industry is working at half a terabit [per square inch],” he says. “They wanted to be at 10 terabits in a few years’ time – we have leapfrogged that target.”

If this were Engadget, we could squee about how we’ll have laptops the size of wristwatches by the end of the decade, but that would be to miss an important point. The ever-falling cost and size of memory and processing power will certainly mean more gadgets, but those gadgets will bring social changes along with them – as Charlie Stross pointed out a while ago, if you can read and write data at the atomic scale then physical storage capacity becomes a complete non-issue, allowing you to record everything – literally everything. [image by Fox O’Rian]

When you can record everything, how do you go about managing and using what you’ve recorded?

Births and deaths in computing

Paul Raven @ 17-12-2007

the first transistor Here’s a little reminder of just how quickly things have moved in recent times: the humble silicon transistor was born sixty years ago to the day. [Image cribbed from linked article.]

And if it strikes you as strange that we should celebrate the birthday of the semiconductor, you’ll probably get an even bigger state of cognitive dissonance from this funeral held for a mainframe computer. [Via BoingBoing]

All we need now to complete the set is for someone to legally marry their laptop … I’ve proposed to mine, but she says I’m too demanding of her time and resources already. 🙁 </3

[tags]semiconductor, transistor, technology, mainframe, funeral[/tags]