Researchers Teach Brain Cells in a Petri Dish to Play Pong

Researchers have taught brain cells in a petri dish to play Pong
Feelfarbig Magazine / Unsplash

While it may seem incredibly crude and rudimentary in 2021, Pong was downright revolutionary when it was first released in 1972. And for many people, it was the first game they ever played.

For researchers at Cortical Labs, the game is perfect for a new experiment they are working on. The scientists have been able to teach brain cells in a petri dish how to play the game.

The researchers have conducted the study on a collection of 800.000 to one million living cells that have been placed on a microelectrode array. The setup allows scientists to study neural activity.

The brains do not play against an opponent. The researchers are simply focused on having the brain cells move right to left in order to find the ball. And the results have been quite promising. The scientific researchers say that while the brain cells aren’t quite as fast as the human brain, they are faster than many versions of AI.

The study, of course, leads many to think of a 1990’s movie. Brett Kagan, the chief scientific officer at Cortical Labs and research lead of the project told New Scientist, “We think it’s fair to call them cyborg brains. We often refer to them as living in the Matrix. When they are in the game, they believe they are the paddle.”

The researcher continued, “The amazon aspect is how quickly it learns, in five minutes, in real-time. That’s really an amazing thing that biology can do.”

Todd Neikirk

Written by Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics and technology writer. His work has been featured in,, and He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and spending time at the shore with his family.