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Swiss Startup Sets Out to Develop the World’s First Living Processor

FinalSpark has unveiled Neuroplatform, a pioneering approach to “bioprocessing” with wetware computing and organoid intelligence.

For the first time, an online, remote platform has been made available for researchers to run experiments on biological neurons. FinalSpark, a Swiss biocomputing startup, launched Neuroplatform, a project that uses 16 human brain organoids to develop the so-called world’s first living processors, also known as bioprocessors.

Much like traditional processors, these bioprocessors can learn and process information but consume a million times less power.

What Is Wetware Computing?

This research falls under the category of wetware computing, which uses a mixture of hardware, software, and biology. The term wetware comes from “wet software,” referring to the software within a living organism—that is, the instructions contained within DNA. Similar to wetware computing, organoid intelligence is a field focused on biological computing using 3D cultures of human brain cells.

FinalSpark’s research intersects wetware computing and organoid intelligence because it uses living neurons to perform computations. While the concept closely resembles how artificial neural networks (ANNs) are used in computing today, new methods must be developed for these biological systems.

Neuroplatform’s Hardware Architecture

FinalSpark’s remote biocomputing platform relies on hardware to preserve homeostasis, monitor environmental parameters, and perform electrophysiological experiments. Users can interact with the hardware using a graphical user interface (GUI) or via Python scripts.

Taking a closer look at the hardware, FinalSpark’s Neuroplatform system uses four multi-electrode arrays (MEA) to capture real-time measurements of cellular activity. It also includes electrodes that stimulate and record electrical activity between each other. A closed-loop microfluidics system supplies Neuronal Medium to sustain the life of organoids on the MEA. The platform also leverages cameras for each MEA to capture still images or video recordings. Finally, Neuroplatform uses UV light-controlled caging systems to release molecules with a specific wavelength of light that breaks molecular cages when they contain a neuroactive molecule.

Although the materials in FinalSpark’s Neuroplatform differ from that of traditional computing, many concepts remain the same between both.

Electrodes and Transistors

Both the electrodes in FinalSpark’s Neuroplatform and transistors in traditional processors are fundamental components that handle the transmission of electrical signals. In processors, transistors switch on and off to create binary data, while electrodes in the MEA system record and stimulate electrical activity in biological matter.

Measurement and Data Processing

The MEA system can measure and record real-time cellular activity, similar to how processors handle real-time data processing. Both systems gather data, process it, and potentially act upon it.

Microfluidics and Cooling Systems

The closed-loop microfluidics system for sustaining organoids is somewhat analogous to cooling systems in traditional processors. Both systems are essential for maintaining the optimal operating conditions of their respective computational hosts.

Cameras and Diagnostic Tools

Cameras in the Neuroplatform system capture images or videos, which can be considered a diagnostic tool similar to how monitoring software tracks the performance of computer processors. While FinalSpark’s Neuroplatform and traditional digital processors share some similarities in their use of electrical signals and real-time data processing capabilities, they differ in their construction, purpose, and operational mechanisms.

One stark contrast between digital processors and bioprocessors is their potential for sustainability and reduced power consumption. While a single LLM such as GPT-3 requires 10 GWh (6,000x the yearly consumption of a European citizen), the human brain operates with approximately 86 billion neurons and consumes only 20 W of power. This suggests that bioprocessors, if one day viable, can act as sustainable replacements for an ANN.

Free for Research Purposes

Access to Neuroplatform is free for research purposes. This allows participants to conduct real-time experiments on biological networks and replicate results in their own lab. FinalSpark’s infrastructure currently only enables seven research groups to use the platform at a time, but the company is in the process of scaling up hardware to accommodate more users. The scalability of such a system with hundreds or thousands of users is not clear.

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