Closer to a computer that imitates the human brain using only water and salt

For decades, experts have tried to reproduce the processing capacity of the human brain on a computer, but the space and energy requirements are enormous. Or they were until now: a team of scientists from the universities of Utrecht (Netherlands) and Sogang (South Korea), have managed to build an artificial synapse that works with water and salt and provides the first evidence that a system that uses the same medium as our brain can process complex information.

The results have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In seeking to improve the energy efficiency of conventional computers, scientists have long turned to the human brain for inspiration. Your goal is to emulate his extraordinary ability in several ways.

These efforts have led to the development of brain-like computers, which move away from traditional binary processing to analog methods similar to the human brain. However, while Our brains work using water and dissolved salt particles called ions. As a medium, most current brain-inspired computers rely on conventional solid materials.

This raises the question: Couldn't we achieve a more faithful imitation of brain functioning by adopting the same medium? This intriguing possibility lies at the heart of the burgeoning field of iontronic neuromorphic computing.

The authors of the study, led by Tim Kamsma, have demonstrated, for the first time, a water-salt dependent system that exhibits the ability to process complex information. A central element of this discovery is a tiny device measuring 150 by 200 micrometers (a micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter), which mimics the behavior of a synapse, an essential component of the brain responsible for transmitting signals between neurons. It must be taken into account that a neuron measures between 4 and 100 micrometers.

“Although there are already artificial synapses based on solid materials capable of processing complex information, we now show a possible future – explains Kamsma in a statement -. It is the first time that this feat can also be achieved using water and salt. “We are effectively replicating neural behavior using a system that employs the same medium as the brain.”

The device, called an iontronic memristor, consists of a cone-shaped microchannel filled with a water-salt solution. Upon receiving electrical impulses, ions within the liquid migrate through the channel, causing alterations in ion concentration. Depending on the intensity (or duration) of the impulse, the conductivity of the channel is adjusted, simulating the connections between neurons.

Kamsma underscores the fundamental nature of the research and highlights that iontronic neuromorphic computing, while experiencing rapid growth, is still in its infancy. The expected result is a computer system far superior in efficiency and energy consumption compared to current technology. However, at this time it remains speculative whether this vision will materialize. However, Kamsma sees the publication as an important step forward.

“It represents a crucial advance towards computers capable not only of imitate the communication patterns of the human brain, but also to use the same medium – concludes Kamsma -. “Perhaps this will ultimately pave the way for computing systems that more closely reproduce the extraordinary capabilities of the human brain.”