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Scientists Create First Bio-Computer Made from Living Human Cells

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As fears over artificial intelligence continue to grow, we can at least take solace in knowing our bodies will never rise up and join the machines-we’re still made of meat, which makes us difficult to hack. However, thanks to researchers from ETH Zurich, we’ve recently made a huge step forward in the development of biocomputers, collections of cells that are organized and manipulated to act like a very simple computer. Soon, the line between computer and human may become blurrier than ever.

The key behind the new biocomputer is nine modular cell cultures, which are arranged into 3-D lattices. Each of these little modules, which are made of human cells, is “programmed” to react to different chemical inputs, the way a normal computer reacts to electrical inputs.

The team from Zurich has even managed to structure the cells so that the biocomputer can create logic gates, which take two inputs and process them to create one output. This has allowed the team to accomplish “full-adder computations,” where different cells do small parts of a calculation and then add the results together to get a complete answer.

What’s especially interesting about this new research is that it’s described as “plug-and-play”: you can take the different modules of the biocomputer and re-arrange them to accomplish new calculations without tearing apart the whole “computer.”

Even more fascinating (and potentially disturbing) is the prospect of implanting these kinds of computers into human tissue to carry out tasks, like telling you when you’re sick. The human body is already a complex computer that runs on instructions provided by DNA, so what’s the harm in installing a little bio-software?

Of course, programming cell cultures is a much more difficult and fragile process than programming wires in a computer. On top of that, certain diseases and most cancers are pretty good at reprogramming the human body to their own ends.

On the upside, it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising nerds decide to try to run Doom on someone’s skin.

Chris Mahon
Outer Places


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