In an attempt to recreate the functioning of the human brain in an artificially created algorithm, scientists turned their attention to astrocytes - specialized nerve cells that work together with neurons.
Most of the mechanisms and computer models controlled by artificial intelligence are based on the way neurons interact - specialized brain cells, between which nerve impulses are transmitted. Only part of the brain's activity is reproduced in machines and the influence of other cells of the nervous system on signal transmission is completely ignored.
For more than a hundred years, scientists believed that neurons are the only participants in a complex "mail" system that delivers messages from the brain to "addressees" - organs, tissues, cells - and vice versa. Only recently has the true purpose of other nerve cells - astrocytes, which occupy twice as much space in the brain as neurons - has emerged.
Astrocytes, which resemble stars with rays in their shape, do not just fill the "empty" space, as previously thought of them. The asterisk cells, like sorting centers, control the direction and the way the "messages" that neurons exchange. It is the astrocytes that are responsible for learning and forming patterns for the same rhythmic actions, such as walking, and are also involved in sending outdated "postmen" to rest - helping to eliminate dead neurons from the brain.
Scientists from Rutgers University were the first to transfer the still poorly understood functions of astrocytes to artificial intelligence and fundamentally change the structure, operation and training of artificial neural networks. In an article published on the arXiv preprint site and presented at the ICONS 2020 conference in July, the researchers showed what happens inside astrocytes when they interact with neurons, and also presented the first robot driven by a neural astrocytic network.
It turned out that astrocytes, receiving information about the environment, interact with neurons and determine the nature of their interaction with each other. When scientists placed a neuromorphic central pattern generator (CPG), equipped with artificial astrocytes, in special neuromorphic chips that control a six-legged robot, they saw a fundamentally different movement: smoother and more "alive".
Konstantinos Mikhmizos, assistant professor of computer science at Rutgers University and lead author of the study, believes that the control signals that artificial astrocytes transmit to artificial neurons will make robots less dependent on environmental factors and allow better regulation of movement. The method of constructing artificial intelligence using the functions of astrocytes has already entered the curriculum of students at Rutgers University.