Bruce Sterling on Fri, 11 Jul 2003 23:19:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Semi-Living Artist

*It's what today's scene needs most,
nettime ladies and gentlemen: chunks of rat
brain in a lab in Atlanta, drawing pictures
in distant Australia. -- bruces

mercredi 9 juillet 2003 	

Lab Cultures Used to Create a Robotic 'Semi-Living Artist'

This Georgia Institute of Technology news release tells us how U.S. and 
Australian researchers have "created what they call a new class of creative 
beings, 'the semi-living artist' -- a picture-drawing robot in Perth, 
Australia whose movements are controlled by the brain signals of cultured 
rat cells in Atlanta."

Gripping three colored markers positioned above a white canvas, the robotic 
drawing arm operates based on the neural activity of a few thousand rat 
neurons placed in a special petri dish that keeps the cells alive. The dish,
  a Multi-Electrode Array (MEA), is instrumented with 60 two-way electrodes 
for communication between the neurons and external electronics. The neural 
signals are recorded and sent to a computer that translates neural activity 
into robotic movement.

Here is how the robotic drawing arm operates based on the neural activity 
of a few thousand rat neurons.

The network of brain cells, located in Professor Steve Potter's lab at the 
Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and the mechanical arm, located 
in the lab of Guy Ben-Ary at the University of Western Australia in Perth,
  interact in real-time through a data exchange system via an Internet 
connection between the robot and the brain cells.

And while the robot's drawings won't put any artists out of business 
(picture the imaginative scribbling of a three-year-old), the semi-living 
artist's work has a deeper significance. The team hopes to bridge the gap 
between biological and artificial systems to produce a machine capable of 
matching the intelligence of even the simplest organism.

Here is a picture drawn by the 'semi-living artist.'

And where this research will lead?

Central to the experiments is Potter's belief that over time the teams will 
be able to establish a cultured in vitro network system that learns like 
the living brains in people and animals do. To achieve that, the 
information from the robot's sensors is sent back through the system to the 
cultured network of cells in the form of electrical stimuli. By closing the 
loop, the group hopes the robot will learn something about itself and its 

"I hope that this merging of art and science will get the artists thinking 
about our science, and the scientists thinking about what is art and what 
is the minimum needed to make a creative entity," Potter said. "On the 
science side, I hope that we can look at the drawings it makes and see some 
evidence of learning. Then we can scrutinize the cultured network under the 
microscope to help understand the learning process at the cellular level."

For more information about Potter's works, you can read "A Hybrot, the 
Rat-Brained Robot" or "Researchers use lab cultures to control robotic 

Source: Georgia Institute Of Technology, through Science Daily, July 9, 2003
12:40:28 PM    Any comments? [0]

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