Stem Cell Essay Contest Winner Category 2: Agnes Oshiro

Yesterday I announced the category 1 (age 18 or younger) winner of my stem cell essay contest. The fascinating topic was what do we become if we start replacing our parts with transplants.


Publication and $50 iTunes gift card.

Today I announce the winner of Category 2, Agnes Oshiro of Davis, CA.

Congratulations, Agnes.

Here’s the essay…

Semiorganic Artificial Intelligence and the Supercomputer 

Every one of us is endowed at birth with a supercomputer so powerful that scientists have only been able to dream of engineering it into creation – the human brain.  The sheer volume of data required to be able to successfully model the intricate network of complex interactions between neurons, glial cells, and perhaps other types of specialized cells that are yet to be discovered, is simply overwhelming.  But the development of iPS cells in 2006 may – quite literally – breathe life into the quest for a more ‘perfect’ artificial intelligence.  Just last year in 2011, Dr. Sheng Ding of the Gladstone Institute at UCSF successfully transformed adult skin cells into fully functional neurons using iPSC technology, a breakthrough discovery that poses limitless possibilities for modeling human cognitive processes using live neural networks cultured in the lab.  Insights into the details of the mechanism for memory, combined with the cutting-edge technology of the IT industry, may allow for the development of a chip that far exceeds its silicon counterparts in processing power and flexibility in its decision-making algorithms.

Scientists traditionally employ artificial neural networks (ANNs) to model the behavior of actual biological neural networks.  ANNs are mathematical models that use statistical analysis to achieve its purpose, so there is always an undeniable margin for error.  Other approaches include the use of “wet computers” that mainly harness the power of chemical reactions that mimic metabolic processes.  iPSCs allows scientists to use cultured brain cells, which undoubtedly will produce a much more realistic, reliable set of data, which may be used to ultimately reciprocate the human brain.  A notable study conducted in 2011 by Dr. Ashwin Vishwanathan at the University of Pittsburg created a small ‘brain’ on a circular silicon disc coated with adhesive proteins and neurons harvested from embryonic rats.  The ‘brain’ was able to maintain 12 seconds of ‘memory’ after receiving an electrical pulse – an amazing result that promises similar breakthroughs in future studies using iPSCs.

iPSC technology holds immense possibilities in providing ethical solutions to  numerous problems, but its application to IT is especially attractive because if scientists are able to successfully engineer a supercomputer operating with a semiorganic AI, it  may in turn be able to offer ‘smarter’, more probabilistically viable solutions to those same problems, based on computations that were previously impossible due to lack of data, storage space, etc.

Unfortunately, the departmentalization of universities throughout history has nurtured the evolution of highly specialized fields of research, which often proves to be a major obstacle when coordinating a synthetic effort between departments with dramatically different areas of study.  However, the desire for innovation that runs in the scientific community as a whole will undoubtedly bridge any and all differences, in the search for a better, smarter, more powerful artificial intelligence.