In a recent interview with Business2Community, Dr. Fred Jordan, co-founder of FinalSpark, shared insights into the innovative process of using stem cells to create tiny, brain-like structures capable of storing information, a realm where artificial intelligence (AI) meets biology.
Alongside Dr. Martin Kutter, his fellow physicist and business partner, Dr. Jordan has propelled FinalSpark into the spotlight following their previous success with AlpVision, known for its anti-counterfeit smartphone app. Leveraging their experience and financing from AlpVision, they embarked on a pioneering venture in biotechnology.
The ultimate goal is to develop machines with a form of intelligence. We want to create a real function, something useful.
The Innovation: Neural Research and Biotechnology
In the interview, Dr. Jordan explained that the company uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), derived from human skin cells, to create neurons and glial cells. These cells together form a tiny brain-like structure, only about half a millimeter in size. Remarkably, this tiny brain has been able to store a bit of information, much like the earliest quantum computers did.
So far, we’ve stored one bit of information. Think of it like the performance of the first quantum computers, which could store 1 “Qubit” (quantum bit) of data 20 years ago. Now, we have our first “Bibit”, or biological bit.
The process of getting these neurons to work with electronic systems is still being perfected. FinalSpark uses a method that involves carefully timed electrical and chemical signals, including a special technique where they use dopamine, a brain chemical, to stimulate the tiny brain at just the right time.
As Dr. Jordan explained, this approach is more complex than standard artificial intelligence. The neurons used in these tiny brains are more complex than the systems used in conventional AI, adding an entirely new layer to how computers can process information.
Each neuron in our brain has about 10,000 connections, far more complex than anything in conventional AI. Furthermore, neurons work with spikes, sending signals in every direction, unlike the fixed input-output models in classical AI.
FinalSpark’s Vision for the Future
FinalSpark’s work opens up exciting business possibilities. At present, FinalSpark is concentrating on greatly lowering energy use, which could be millions to billions of times less than what digital computers require. This has the potential to transform cloud computing, as their neuron-based systems would need far less energy. Such a development offers a greener option compared to standard computing practices.
Dr. Jordan also explained that this groundbreaking method has the potential to create numerous new uses, similar to how the invention of the transistor eventually brought about the internet. This technology could bring major changes in several areas, ranging from healthcare to data management.
Adaptability and Global Collaboration
An interesting move by FinalSpark was making their lab operations remote during the pandemic. This change, made over three years, showed them that research groups around the world could also use their neuron research remotely. As a result, they invited research teams globally to use their facilities.
Right now, teams from France, England, and the U.S. are using their labs remotely, conducting experiments with FinalSpark’s neurons to advance scientific knowledge.
These research teams are conducting experiments with our neurons, obtaining results, and furthering scientific understanding through their work. The idea is to foster a collaborative and accessible research environment.
Navigating Ethical Challenges and Consciousness Debate
The primary ethical concern revolves around the use of living neuron-based systems. FinalSpark addresses this by using iPSCs, which are derived from human skin cells. This method avoids the controversial use of actual human brain tissue, alleviating some ethical concerns.
On the broader ethical debate on whether such advancements are crossing a line, Dr. Jordan had this to say:
“People may question if we are crossing a line with technological advancements, but does it make sense? Where does the technology lead us? Is it better? Do we live better? The answer is yes, we live better, way better – I’m much happier here today than I would have been 1000 years ago. This progress benefits me and the entire human race. So, there’s no doubt that moving in the direction of progress has been beneficial for us.”
On whether organoids could ever develop something like human consciousness, Dr. Jordan highlighted that the concept of consciousness is complex and not clearly defined. Current experiments with organoids are small-scale, and it’s not yet clear if they can achieve consciousness. Defining what consciousness means is an essential first step in these discussions.
The idea of organoids showing reactions or communication was also explored in the interview. While certain markers might show reactions, analyzing these in real time is challenging.
Biomarkers could potentially indicate reactions, but real-time analysis of these is challenging. We could observe the activity and spiking rate of neurons, but drawing parallels to human expressions of feelings, like crying, is speculative at this stage.
FinalSpark’s progress, as highlighted by Dr. Jordan in his conversation with B2C, is a prime example of how technology can redefine business landscapes. Their exploration into neuron-based computing, along with their ethical approach, highlights the depth and responsibility of their groundbreaking work. This project shows how technological innovation, guided by ethical values and teamwork, can greatly contribute to human knowledge and benefit society.