A Nigerian Scientist Is Building Computer Made Of ‘Human Brains’


A Nigerian scientist (physicist and bio-engineer), Oshiorenoya Agabi, is working on building a computer that is much more alive with living, learning processors.

He believes that in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence, brain-like processors are missing a key component, which is actual brains, or at least, living neurons.

Agabi’s company Koniku, which just completed a stint at the biotech accelerator IndieBio, prides itself as the first and only company on the planet building chips with biological neurons.

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The young scientist believes that rather than simply mimic brain function with chips, the script can actually be flipped by borrowing the actual material of human brains to create the chips.

Nigerian scientist Oshiorenoya Agabi 3

He’s integrating lab-grown neurons onto computer chips in an effort to make them much more powerful than their standard silicon forebears.

Google, Facebook, and IBM have all gone all-in on brain-like computers that promise to emulate the mind of a human. The ability to learn and recognize patterns is viewed as a key next step in the evolution of Artificial Intelligence.

Agabi says his company, Koniku, is fundraising towards a first-round goal of $6.3 million. It has already landed customers in the aviation and pharmaceuticals industries, like AstraZeneca, the UK-based pharma company, and Boeing has signed on with a letter of intent to use the tech in chemical-detecting drones.

The first batch of neuron-abetted chips are set to ship in the next few months. Agabi says that one customer, a drone company, hopes the processors will prove superior in detecting methane leaks in oil refineries.

Another aims to use the processors to model the effect certain drugs will have on a human brain. The future, Agabi believes, will run on a computer that’s much more alive.

Nigerian scientist Oshiorenoya Agabi 2

Part of Koniku’s funding success seems to come from his genuine, even romantic vision of neuron-based chips as the future of processing.

Agabi, who was born in Nigeria, first became interested in machine learning while teaching a pick-and-place robotic arm to classify objects for the Swiss robotics company, Neuronics.

After eight years, he left the company to pursue his Masters in theoretical physics, focusing his thesis on the challenge of interfacing neurons with a robot.

He spent the next four years working to build a robotic arm that could attach to an amputee, eventually leaving to move to London to pursue his PhD in bio-engineering.

Through years of teaching machines to learn, and through the study of the brain’s mechanics, he believes that his team will be able to organize living neurons into circuits built to perform precise tasks.

Basically, he hopes to build a computer chip with living, learning processors. Agabi believes his neuronic chips will be better at learning than traditional silicon processors, because they can more closely mirror human brain function.

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Last month, Google’s AI division, DeepMind, announced that its computer had defeated Europe’s Go champion in five straight games, a landmark moment in the evolution of artificial intelligence.