Nigerian Oshi Agabi has unveiled a computer based not on silicon but on mice neurons at the TEDGlobal conference in Tanzania.
The system has been trained to recognise the smell of explosives and could be used to replace traditional airport security, he said.
Eventually the modem-sized device, dubbed Koniku Kore, could provide the brain for future robots. Experts said that making such systems mass-market was challenging.
All of the big tech firms, from Google to Microsoft, are rushing to create artificial intelligence modelled on the human brain.
While computers are better than humans at complex mathematical equations, there are many cognitive functions where the brain is much better: training a computer to recognise smells would require colossal amounts of computational power and energy, for example.
Mr Agabi is attempting to reverse-engineer biology, which already accomplishes this function with a fraction of the power it would take a silicon-based processor. “Biology is technology. Bio is tech,” he says. “Our deep learning networks are all copying the brain.”