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A peculiar network of nanowires that behaves like a living brain

The border between order and chaos could be the key to natural and artificial intelligence, judging by the most recent results of an intriguing line of research.

Scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia and the National Institute of Materials Science (NIMS) in Japan have discovered that an artificial network of nanowires, when electrically stimulated, can be adjusted to respond in a similar way to a biological brain.

The international team, led by Joel Hochstetter, Zdenka Kuncic and Tomonobu Nakayama, found that the nanowire network, when kept in a state “on the edge of chaos”, performed tasks at an optimal level.

According to the researchers, this suggests that the underlying nature of neural intelligence is physical, and its discovery opens up an exciting avenue for the development of artificial intelligence.

The researchers used wires 10 micrometers long and no more than 500 nanometers thick, randomly arranged on a surface.

When the wires overlap, they form an electrochemical junction, like synapses between neurons. Hochstetter and his colleagues found that electrical signals traversing this network automatically find the best route to transmit information. And this architecture allows the network to “remember” previous paths through the system.

Microscopic image of the nanowire network. (Photo: Adrian Diaz-Alvarez / NIMS)

Using simulations, the research team put the random nanowire network to the test to see how to make it work best to solve simple tasks.

If the signal stimulating the network was too low, the pathways were too predictable and orderly and did not produce results that were complex enough to be useful. If the electrical signal surpassed the network, the result was completely chaotic and useless for troubleshooting.

The optimal signal to produce a useful output was on the edge of this chaotic state.

Strikingly, some neuroscience theories suggest that the human mind operates at this edge of chaos, which is described as “the critical state.” (Source: NCYT from Amazings)

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