Recognizing the imposing nature of his resume, the engineer paused for a moment, attempting to simplify his life's work. "Essentially, for the last fifteen years, I have worked to understand how neurons talk to each other," he said. "I've worked on how to communicate with individual neurons—how to read information from them and write information into them."This ability to code specific tasks into neurons, born out of Agabi's specialized history, is the essence of what Koniku is hoping to accomplish. 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.
Basically, he hopes to build a computer chip with living, learning processors.
Naturally, I mentioned that infamous malignant AI to Agabi, and asked if he was burdened by the effect the Terminator films have had on his research. "Yes, yes, yes," he said, letting out a wearied laugh. He told me the idea that his company was putting human parts into machines was just a simple case of anthropomorphizing. Neurons are present in many animal brains aside from humans, and Agabi reminded me that Koniku's neurons are grown in a lab. "Carbon is a material like any other material," he said. "So for us the premise that we start from is that neurons are a material."For Agabi, what he calls the "AI drama" is much less interesting than the simple question of efficiency. He notes that the Tianhe-2, the most powerful supercomputer built to date, demands 24 megawatts of power, while the human brain runs on just 10 watts. In other words, he says, the most powerful computer on earth burns 2.4 million times the energy of the human brain. "It's not a matter of luxury, or just because we can do it. It's a matter of urgency," he said. "We have to find a way to build much more with less if we as a species are going to survive."Dr. Evered agrees that much of the brain's tremendous efficiency stems from its ability to learn to recognize and reinforce the optimal connections between neurons. Though we are born with 100 billion neurons, we lose 100,000 per day—and it is the ability for the remaining neurons to form connections with beneficial counterparts that determines the power of the brain.
"Carbon is a material like any other material. So for us the premise that we start from is that neurons are a material."