Neural Nanotechnology: Nanowire Networks Learn and Remember Like a Human Brain

Artificial Intelligence Neural Network Concept Art

Scientists have demonstrated that nanowire networks can exhibit short- and long-term memory, similar to the human brain. These networks, comprised of highly conductive silver wires covered in plastic and arranged in a mesh-like pattern, mimic the physical structure of the human brain. The team successfully tested the nanowire network’s memory capabilities using a task similar to human psychology experiments. This breakthrough in nanotechnology suggests that non-biological hardware systems could potentially replicate brain-like learning and memory, and has numerous real-world applications, such as improving robotics and sensor devices in unpredictable environments.

Human-Like Intelligence Could Be Physical

In a groundbreaking study, an international team has shown that nanowire networks can mimic the short- and long-term memory functions of the human brain. This breakthrough paves the way for replicating brain-like learning and memory in non-biological systems, with potential applications in robotics and sensor devices.

An international team led by scientists at the <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

University of Sydney
The University of Sydney is a public research university located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Founded in 1850, it is the oldest university in Australia and is consistently ranked among the top universities in the world. The University of Sydney has a strong focus on research and offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs across a variety of disciplines, including arts, business, engineering, law, medicine, and science.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>University of Sydney has demonstrated nanowire networks can exhibit both short- and long-term memory like the human brain.

The research has been published today in the journal <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Science Advances
&lt;em&gt;Science Advances&lt;/em&gt; is a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal that is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). It was launched in 2015 and covers a wide range of topics in the natural sciences, including biology, chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, materials science, and physics.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>Science Advances, led by Dr. Alon Loeffler, who received his PhD in the School of Physics, with collaborators in Japan.

“In this research, we found higher-order cognitive function, which we normally associate with the human brain, can be emulated in non-biological hardware,” Dr. Loeffler said.

Nanowire Network Pathways Changing and Strengthening

Photograph of nanowire network (left), network’s pathways changing and strengthening (right). Credit: Alon Loeffler

“This work builds on our previous research in which we showed how nanotechnology could be used to build a brain-inspired electrical device with neural network-like circuitry and <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

A synapse is a specialized junction between nerve cells that allows for the transfer of electrical or chemical signals, through the release of neurotransmitters by the presynaptic neuron and the binding of receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. It plays a key role in communication between neurons and in various physiological processes including perception, movement, and memory.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>synapse-like signaling.

“Our current work paves the way towards replicating brain-like learning and memory in non-biological hardware systems and suggests that the underlying nature of brain-like intelligence may be physical.”

Neural Network and Nanowire Network

Neural network (left) nanowire network (right). Credit: Loeffler et al.

Nanowire networks are a type of nanotechnology typically made from tiny, highly conductive silver wires that are invisible to the naked eye, covered in a plastic material, which are scattered across each other like a mesh. The wires mimic aspects of the networked physical structure of a human brain.

Advances in nanowire networks could herald many real-world applications, such as improving robotics or sensor devices that need to make quick decisions in unpredictable environments.

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“This nanowire network is like a synthetic neural network because the nanowires act like neurons, and the places where they connect with each other are analogous to synapses,” senior author Professor Zdenka Kuncic, from the School of Physics, said.

“Instead of implementing some kind of <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

machine learning
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) that deals with the development of algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to learn from data and make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machine learning is used to identify patterns in data, classify data into different categories, or make predictions about future events. It can be categorized into three main types of learning: supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>machine learning task, in this study, Dr. Loeffler has actually taken it one step further and tried to demonstrate that nanowire networks exhibit some kind of cognitive function.”

Zdenka Kuncic University of Sydney

Zdenka Kuncic. Credit: University of Sydney

To test the capabilities of the nanowire network, the researchers gave it a test similar to a common memory task used in human psychology experiments, called the N-Back task.

For a person, the N-Back task might involve remembering a specific picture of a cat from a series of feline images presented in a sequence. An N-Back score of 7, the average for people, indicates the person can recognize the same image that appeared seven steps back.

When applied to the nanowire network, the researchers found it could ‘remember’ a desired endpoint in an electric circuit seven steps back, meaning a score of 7 in an N-Back test.


“What we did here is manipulate the voltages of the end electrodes to force the pathways to change, rather than letting the network just do its own thing. We forced the pathways to go where we wanted them to go,” Dr. Loeffler said.

“When we implement that, its memory had much higher <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

How close the measured value conforms to the correct value.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{"attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"}]”>accuracy and didn’t really decrease over time, suggesting that we’ve found a way to strengthen the pathways to push them towards where we want them, and then the network remembers it.

Alon Loeffler

Alon Loeffler. Credit: Alon Loeffler

“Neuroscientists think this is how the brain works, certain synaptic connections strengthen while others weaken, and that’s thought to be how we preferentially remember some things, how we learn, and so on.”

The researchers said when the nanowire network is constantly reinforced, it reaches a point where that reinforcement is no longer needed because the information is consolidated into memory.

“It’s kind of like the difference between long-term memory and short-term memory in our brains,” Professor Kuncic said.

“If we want to remember something for a long period of time, we really need to keep training our brains to consolidate that, otherwise it just kind of fades away over time.

“One task showed that the nanowire network can store up to seven items in memory at substantially higher than chance levels without reinforcement training and near-perfect accuracy with reinforcement training.”

Reference: “Neuromorphic learning, working memory, and metaplasticity in nanowire networks” by Alon Loeffler, Adrian Diaz-Alvarez, Ruomin Zhu, Natesh Ganesh, James M. Shine, Tomonobu Nakayama and Zdenka Kuncic, 21 April 2023, Science Advances.
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adg3289