Emergent design of neuronal devices

Abstract : Being able to harness the processing power of biological neurons will open the door to ground breaking applications in many scientific fields. Glucosepowered neural implants could repair or enhance cerebral functions in the field of medicine, in vitro cognitive assays could foster drug screening in the pharmaceutical industry, and biological processors could lead to new kinds of artificial intelligence. Any neuronal culture assigned with a computable function (actual or intended) can go under the name of a neuronal device. This thesis represents a multi-frontal effort towardsmaking this concept a more tangible thing, without holding to firmly onto preconceptions of what might and might not be relevant for computation. Our strategy is based on the exploitation of cultured neuronal networks’ properties that are both resilient and experimentally easily accessible rather than on the urge to reproduce the machinery of the brain. This seemingly naive engineering approach is disputable in the same way chance and necessity are in general disputable in biology. In spite of their mindboggling capabilities, one can argue that brains are the product of historical contingency and are therefore not necessarily optimal for the functions they support in vivo. This would be evenmore so the case for alternative functions only relevant to disembodied cultures. Whereas it might then be defendable to distance ourselves from natural brains, there are several benefits to the use of living components in the first place. Living cells have evolved to be energetically very efficient, they can repair themselves and adapt to environmental changes. On a more fundamental level, in vitro discoveries, originating from the making and characterization of neuronal devices, might be transposable to processes at play in vivo but difficult to access ; such undertaking is therefore also relevant to the field of neurosciences in general. Finally and most importantly, this work could help to define the kind of computations that can be performed by neuronal assemblies and bring new elements to the field of artificial intelligence, which is bound to be determinant in our future.
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Renaud Renault. Emergent design of neuronal devices. Disordered Systems and Neural Networks [cond-mat.dis-nn]. UNIVERSITE PARIS-DIDEROT, 2015. English. ⟨tel-01587951⟩

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