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At Mind Matters News: Are the brain cells in a dish that learned Pong conscious?


Eric Holloway: Human-derived organoids learned faster than AI and always outperformed mouse-derived organoids in terms of volley length, raising troubling questions:

A couple other interesting results from the research. First, human-derived organoids always outperform mouse-derived organoids in terms of volley length. Second, even without negative feedback, when the paddle missed the pong ball, the organoids still learn to increase volley length.

The scientists hypothesize that this is because long volleys are more predictable than the random resets generated when the paddle misses the pong ball.

Overall, fascinating research. But, it raises the troubling question, are these brains conscious? The brains certainly are learning, and insofar as the brain has to be conscious in order to learn, then this implies the brains are indeed conscious. And what if this technology becomes mainstream and we have embedded human brains powering our home appliances?

Eric Holloway, “Are the brain cells in a dish that learned Pong conscious?” at Mind Matters News ()December 27, 2021)

Takehome: The ethical dimension of the organoid research — largely ignored in the news — is the reverse light it casts on the value of human life. A number of organoid experiments do use human embryonic stem cells. If we are worried about the consciousness of the derived organoids, are we likewise worried about the consciousness of the beings from whom the stem cells are derived? We dehumanize them through terminology, calling them “fertilized eggs” or “blastocysts.” Yet these little collections of cells are far more likely to turn into conscious human brains than the organoids in the scientific experiments.

You may also wish to read: University of Chicago biochemist: All living cells are cognitive. James Shapiro’s recent paper points out, with examples, that bacteria meet the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “cognitive.” Future debates over origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., may mainly feature panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.

Note: Because the organoids are described as a Matrix theme in some quarters, you may also wish to read: The Matrix Resurrections: The studio is making us do this! Mark Zuckerberg, eat your heart out. If there is one word to describe this movie, that word is Meta. Agent Smith — now a cooperate bigwig — informs Neo that they are making the Matrix Trilogy, now a video game, into a new franchise, with or without his consent. (Gary Varner)

There was an interesting little SF book in which brain cells cultured in dishes was part of the sub-plot. It was made freely available by the author. Highly recommended. https://books.google.ca/books/about/Starfish.html?id=_gAZBAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&hl=en&newbks=1&newbks_redir=1&redir_esc=y Joe Schooner
Polistra@1 It's a matter of semantics. The meaning of "learn" according to the dictionary is to acquire knowledge or skill. Inherently this requires the learner to be able to "know" whatever it is. To know is to understand or to be aware of something, which are actions of subjective consciousness, not mechanism. The writer uses a word "learn" that implies consciousness, but presumably actually meant that the neurons in a dish may have (it's not clear) developed a logical computational net that carried out actions and reactions that played the game. A mechanism we should presume does not have consciousness, since machines, being material, have none of the immaterial properties of consciousness (and vice versa). An interesting problem - design a Turing test for consciousness in a dish or vat of trained embryonic neural stem cells. It's hard enough (nearly impossible) to design such a test for AI systems. doubter
So I read the article, I have a relatively good understanding of neurology, and I watched the video of this. I was vastly disappointment Also partly relieved But if you actually watch the video the pong paddle is nearly 1/3 the screen It jerks continuously around and it seems more lucky then it does accurate The ball grazes the pixel corner of that huge pong paddle multiple times, enough to make me question whether or not the size of the pong paddle is the really reason it made contact I think much of what I witnessed could be explained by neural noise and strength of that noise which human brain cells would easily produce higher and stronger out puts of neural noise What they made it sound like was they had created mother brain form Metroid and that she was learning how to play video games at an exponential rate, beating out both AI and mouse models What I got was jittery movement akin to Parkinson’s and outrageously large paddle that any amount of movement would increase your chances of hitting the pong ball AaronS1978
Learning doesn't require or imply consciousness. Simple mechanisms can learn. polistra

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