Oshiorenoya Agab: Nigerian Neuroscientist
Oshiorenoya Agabi (Bret Hartman/TED)

Nigerian Neuroscientist Creates a Scientific Phenomena

A computer that is capable of smell.

“Biology is technology. Bio is tech,” Oshiorenoya Agabi said. “Our deep learning networks are all copying the brain.”

Oshiorenoya Agabi is one of the first leading neuroscientists to break the threshold of science fiction and reality. On Aug. 28, Agabi introduced his startup Silicon Valley neurocomputation company, Koniku, to a TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania. His focus was to address how Africa will take its big leap in the contribution of technology, science and politics. He disclosed that his company is working to produce the first device trained to recognize the smell of explosives.

The project, dubbed Koniku Kore, will be used to effectively intensify airport surveillance and replace traditional security practices, revolutionizing counterterrorism tactics. Agabi stresses that the purpose of the creation of a synthetic brain is to use neurobiology to fix urgent real-world problems like cancer and terrorism.

The concept is simple. Koniku Kore is a modem-sized gadget that is amalgamated with synthetic neurobiology and silicon. Therefore, it is capable of simulating the power of 204 brain neurons, allowing it to become aware and identify odor signifying explosives, or even detect cancer cells. To illustrate Koniku Kore’s function, Agabi explains that “you can give the neurons instructions about what to do — in our case, we tell it to provide a receptor that can detect explosives.”

In a CNN article, Agabi compares his device to a dog.

“In the same way that a dog can detect diseases or explosives at an airport, it’s a sensory system. That is essentially what we recreate in our chip.”

Although the prototype of the device is still not public, Agabi expressed confidence about his research.

“[I have] partially solved one of the biggest challenges of harnessing biological systems — keeping the neurons alive,” he told the BBC.

However, neurotechnology as a field of engineering is still in its early stages of developing machines and devices that provide sustainable outcomes. While Agabi’s unprecedented creation of the Koniku Kore paves the way for future research of how the human brain can influence technological advancement, much of neurological work is focused on improving cognitive functions related to brain injuries and diseases.

Thus, scientists argue that the stability of the neurons’ lifespan is still unpredictable. Professor John Donoghue, a scientist at the Wyss Centre for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, told BBC that the biggest challenge for Agabi would be keeping the neurons alive and happy. He also mentioned that “other scientists are developing silicon chips which mimic the way that neurons work and could ultimately prove more stable,” as opposed to Agabi’s synthetic approach to utilizing neurobiology.

The stakes are high but Agabi remains unwavered by people’s skepticism, which he partially credits to growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. “Lagos is a place that demands grit,” he told CNN. “Growing up there gave me an unconventional way of looking at problems.”

According to a Quartz article, Koniku has already been invested in by major brands, and the company’s current $8 million revenue is expected to see an increase of $30 million in 2018. Agabi told Quartz that his goal is to build a cognitive system based on living neurons within five to seven years.

Agabi believes that the future of humanity lies in artificial intelligence, and that making machines more alive will create an assembly line of integrated silicon and biology that can foster a new market capable of extending human life, and even saving it..