Move over, artificial intelligence. Scientists announce a new 'organoid intelligence' field

Dr. Thomas Hartung is pictured with brain organoids at his lab at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

(CNN)Computers powered by human brain cells may sound like science fiction, but a team of researchers in the United States believes such machines, part of a new field called "organoid intelligence," could shape the future — and now they have a plan to get there.

Organoids are lab-grown tissues that resemble organs. These three-dimensional structures, usually derived from stem cells, have been used in labs for nearly two decades, where scientists have been able to avoid harmful human or animal testing by experimenting on the stand-ins for kidneys, lungs and other organs.
Brain organoids don't actually resemble tiny versions of the human brain, but the pen dot-size cell cultures contain neurons that are capable of brainlike functions, forming a multitude of connections.
    Scientists call the phenomenon "intelligence in a dish."
      This magnified image shows a brain organoid produced in Hartung's lab. The culture was dyed to show neurons in magenta, cell nuclei in blue and other supporting cells in red and green.
      Dr. Thomas Hartung, a professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore, began growing brain organoids by altering human skin samples in 2012.
        He and his colleagues envision combining the power of brain organoids into a type of biological hardware more energy efficient than supercomputers. These "biocomputers" would employ networks of brain organoids to potentially revolutionize pharmaceutical testing for diseases like Alzheimer's, provide insight into the human brain and change the future of computing.
        Research describing the plan for organoid intelligence laid out by Hartung and his colleagues was published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Science.
          "Computing and artificial intelligence have been driving the technology revolution but they are reaching a ceiling," said Hartung, senior study author, in a statement. "Biocomputing is an enormous effort of compacting computational power and increasing its efficiency to push past our current technological limits."

          The human brain vs. artificial intelligence

          While artificial intelligence is inspired by human thought processes, the technology can't fully replicate all capabilities of the human brain. This gap is why humans can use an image or text-based CAPTCHA, or Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart, as an online security measure to prove they aren't bots.
          The Turing test, also known as the imitation game, was developed in 1950 by British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing to assess how machines display intelligent behavior similar to that of a human.
          But how does a computer really stack up against a human brain?
          A supercomputer can crunch massive amounts of numbers faster than a human can.
          "For example, AlphaGo (the AI that beat the world's No. 1 Go player in 2017) was trained on data from 160,000 games," Hartung said. "A person would have to play five hours a day for more than 175 years to experience these many games."