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These Super-Efficient, Artificial Neurons Do Not Use ElectronsSo could the brain’s super-efficiency have to do with ions?

Published in Artificial Intelligence, Brain/Neurology.

Designing electronic systems that mimic the human brain, both in terms of energy use and ability to carry information, is a holy grail of scientific research. Whereas artificial intelligence has come a long way, these systems are still far from matching the brain’s energy efficiency. A team of scientists from the ENS Laboratoire de Physique, Paris, believe the answer might lie in microfluidics.

“The human brain…needs only 20 watts [to function], essentially [as much as] a light bulb,” says Paul Robin, one of the scientists on the study. “Computers need much more energy. Our idea is that maybe the reason why our brain is so much more efficient is that it uses ions and not electrons to function.”

In a recent paper, they suggest that artificial neurons could be designed using ions rather than electrons to carry information. To demonstrate, they designed a device comprising a single layer of water molecules within extremely thin (less than a nanometer) graphene nanoslits. When an electric field is applied, the conduction properties of the water molecules start to show some “very weird” behavior, according to Robin. “These systems have some kind of memory,” he say, “because inside them, ions actually assemble to bigger structures, which can be pairs of ions or even long strings of ions.”