The consciousness question in the age of AI

Brett Kagan, a fast-talking neuroscientist with the charged energy of someone on the cusp of a breakthrough, opened the door of a refrigerated container and gently pulled out a petri dish.

As rain lashed the windows, Kagan placed the dish under a microscope, fiddled with the resolution, and invited me to look.

Packed between the neat little lines that guide electrical charge across a computer chip, I saw a busy cloud of chaos. Hundreds of thousands of human neurons, hemmed in together and overlaid on the chip.

These neurons, and the chip they sat on, were part of a novel bio-technological system called DishBrain that made headlines last year after Kagan and his peers at start-up Cortical Labs taught it to play the computer game Pong.

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