Beckman Fellow 2023-24

Mattia Gazzola

Mechanical Science & Engineering


Gazzola imageProfessor Gazzola’s project deals with the development of a rudimentary in vitro auditory system based on living neurons, and with its demonstration for sound processing and creative synthesis. The merit of this endeavor lies in the untapped potential of neural substrates for information processing. Indeed, populations of neurons possess the ability to generate “out-of-the-box,” emergent forms of computations by harnessing the compositional dynamics of millions of plastic elements. Such emergent dynamics are seen as key to access those traits of learning, attention, curiosity, or creativity, so pervasive in biology yet elusive in modern computing.

By providing a machinery to route sound into neural cultures, they will be able to “hear.” By augmenting cultures with neural activity monitoring and downstream decoding, they will be able to “listen." By virtue of their intrinsic dynamics, they will be able to synthesize new sounds. The outcome will be an engineered biological platform for studying a host of fundamental processes, from sensory fusion and echolocation to speech. The team will then explore the creative potential of their devices in collaboration with composer David Rosenboom. Specifically, they will experiment with “cybernetic compositions,” whereby music will be played to their system and live neural responses will be used to interactively modulate the musical piece. Finally, they will leverage mathematical theories of creativity to quantify novelty-quality tradeoffs, initiating a formal comparison between biological (in vitro) and machine forms of creativity.