It sounds like a sci-fi plot: Hook a real brain up to artificial intelligence, and let the two talk to each other. That’s the design of a new study in the journal Cell, in which artificial intelligence networks displayed images to monkeys, and then studied how the monkey’s neurons responded to the picture. The computer network could then use that information about the brain’s responses to tweak the image, displaying a new picture that might resonate more with the monkey’s visual processing system.
“The first time we saw this happening we felt like we were communicating with a neuron in its own language, like we’d given the cell the ability to tell us something new,” says Carlos Ponce of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
After many iterations of this dance between brain activity and image creation, the researchers were left with a set of ghostly images, “designed” in part by the what the monkey’s visual cells were encoded to respond to.