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The rise of intelligent matter


Artificial intelligence (AI) is accelerating the development of unconventional computing paradigms inspired by the abilities and energy efficiency of the brain. The human brain excels especially in computationally intensive cognitive tasks, such as pattern recognition and classification. A long-term goal is de-centralized neuromorphic computing, relying on a network of distributed cores to mimic the massive parallelism of the brain, thus rigorously following a nature-inspired approach for information processing. Through the gradual transformation of interconnected computing blocks into continuous computing tissue, the development of advanced forms of matter exhibiting basic features of intelligence can be envisioned, able to learn and process information in a delocalized manner. Such intelligent matter would interact with the environment by receiving and responding to external stimuli, while internally adapting its structure to enable the distribution and storage (as memory) of information. We review progress towards implementations of intelligent matter using molecular systems, soft materials or solid-state materials, with respect to applications in soft robotics, the development of adaptive artificial skins and distributed neuromorphic computing.

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Fig. 1: Conceptual transition from structural to intelligent matter with increasing functionality and complexity, and corresponding examples.
Fig. 2: Adaptive swarm behaviour of autonomous robots and clusters of colloids.
Fig. 3: Responsive soft matter and soft matter with embedded memory functionality.
Fig. 4: Adaptive soft materials with homeostatic properties and enzyme-powered motility.
Fig. 5: Neuromorphic materials and systems.


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This research was supported by the Volkswagen Foundation through the Momentum program (grant A126874). This work was further funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) through project 433682494 – SFB 1459. The project has further received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101017237.

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Correspondence to W. H. P. Pernice.

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Kaspar, C., Ravoo, B.J., van der Wiel, W.G. et al. The rise of intelligent matter. Nature 594, 345–355 (2021).

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