Can brain organoids be “conscious”?Scientists may soon discover

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In 2022 we Compare the dynamics displayed by the brain organoids with the complex activity patterns of human consciousness. This will require us to rethink what constitutes a “conscious” brain feature, and will raise serious ethical questions about the brain-like structures grown in the laboratory.

Brain organoids are Tiny Neuron Bundles Cultured in the Laboratory, Derived from human stem cells, show various characteristics of the developing human brain. In medicine, they provide much-needed biological models that allow us to study diseases that affect brain development, such as microcephaly caused by the Zika virus.

Brain organoids are also valuable for basic neuroscience research. There is still much to be discovered about how the brain guides its own existence from its underlying genetic instructions, and once constructed, how its circuits support the complex activity patterns that form the basis of brain functions. Organoids provide a window for the development of neural circuits, which can be observed and operated at will.

As this research continues into 2022, a big question that is imminent is whether brain organoids can be “conscious.” After all, they are made of the same basic material as the human brain—neurons—not artificial intelligence silicon logic gates.

There are already some interesting signs that some building blocks may already be in place. In 2019, Hideo Sakaguchi from Kyoto University and her colleagues Shows unique “spike” activity in neural networks derived from organoidsMore strikingly, Alysson Muotri and his team at the University of California, San Diego found that Brain organoids show coordinated waves of electrical activity, Which is different from the patterns seen in the brains of human babies before birth.

We may see more examples of this next year. Will we still see evidence of organoid consciousness? The challenge here is that we are still not sure how to define consciousness in a fully formed human brain, Not to mention a small group of cells grown in the laboratory. But there are some promising avenues to explore. A prominent candidate for the brain’s consciousness feature is its response to disturbances. If you stimulate the conscious brain with energy pulses, electrical echoes will reverberate in complex patterns over time and space. Do the same thing to the unconscious brain, and the echo will be very simple-like throwing a rock into still water.Marcello Massimini, a neuroscientist at the University of Milan, and his team used this discovery Detect residual or “hidden” consciousness in patients with severe brain injury that do not respond to behaviorWhat happens to the brain organoids when stimulated in this way is still unknown-it is not yet clear how to interpret the results.

As the dynamic development of brain organoids becomes more and more similar to the dynamics observed in the conscious human brain, we will have to reconsider what we believe to be reliable brain characteristics of human consciousness and what criteria we might use to attribute consciousness For things that are not born.

The ethical impact of this is obvious. A conscious organ may suffer pain consciously, and we may never realize its pain because it cannot express anything. Discussion is already in progress Develop ethical and regulatory guidelines for organoid research. These discussions put aside the issue of organoid awareness for the time being. Next year we may see evidence that we need to discuss this issue again.


Get more experts’ predictions for the coming year. The wired world in 2022 With intelligence and insights that need to be known from the brightest minds in the WIRED network.It’s now available on newsstands as Digital downloadOr you can Order your copy online.


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