Back in the summer of 1973 I was lucky enough to visit the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, where I got to play noughts and crosses with a computer. Before you ask, I can’t remember who won, but the whole idea of competing against a computer at a game which called for decisions to be made really fired my imagination. Fast forward a few years and we were all playing elementary video games in the student bar, the earliest of which was Pong, which called for players to move a “bat” up and down while knocking a “ball” in such a way as to evade your opponent’s bat. It was an incredibly simple game, which didn’t take a lot of brain power, frankly – just a modicum of hand-eye coordination (something that would invariably suffer as the evening wore on).

Now scientists in Australia have grown human brain cells in a lab and taught them how to play the game. This has raised an array of ethical and legal questions. Have these human-made neural circuits achieved sentience? And, if so, do they have rights? It’s a fascinating discussion and one with far-reaching implications that philosophy, science and the legal industry will need to tackle sooner rather than later.

At the risk of turning this newsletter into a travelogue, in far more recent times I visited Istanbul and gazed in awe at the city’s myriad wonders, among them the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. The latter two were built while the city was the capital of the Ottoman empire, which finally dissolved 100 years ago this week in the aftermath of the first world war. You can read all about the glories of that empire here.

Do you ever wish you’d followed your muse instead of buckling down to become, say, a journalist (insert your choice of drudgery here). Most of us have an “If only….” in us. But stop to think: just because you resisted the lure of the stage in favour of something a bit more sensible and secure, it doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your calling at weekends and maybe return to it in earnest in later life. We talk to a few people who are happy they have done just that.

This week we also answered key questions about two new omicron subvariants, we also looked into the effect of long-term opioid use on the human body. And, we marked the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis, whose private life indelibly marred his undoubted and pyrotechnic talent.

Our colleagues in Australia, meanwhile, looked into Elon Musk’s first week as the owner of Twitter and why so many users have decided to quit the platform. From Africa, why the continent still suffers so badly from malaria and, from the US, some of the big issues which are likely to have a bearing on the mid-term elections next week.

Do make time to listen to our podcast, The Conversation Weekly. This week we talk to a political scientist and a philosopher about how to bring countries back from dangerous levels of polarisation.

Jonathan Este

Associate Editor, International Affairs Editor

Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock

Lab-grown brain cells can play Pong – so should they have legal rights?

Joshua Jowitt, Newcastle University

A lump of cells could be given the legal status of a person, or remain a property.

Sunset over the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Mehmet Cetin/Alamy

Five things you need to know about the Ottoman empire

Georgios Giannakopoulos, King's College London

The Ottoman empire once stretched from Vienna to Cairo, an expert explains its power.

Is it ever too late? Alenavlad

Why putting your artistic calling on hold might not always be such a bad idea

Katie Bailey, King's College London

We are all told to follow our calling. Here’s what happens if you pursue a more ‘sensible’ career instead.

Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

Omicron BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 – an expert answers three key questions about these new COVID variants

Manal Mohammed, University of Westminster

Two new omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 could lead to another COVID surge. Here’s what we know so far.

Matthew Perry’s colon ruptured as a result of his opioid use. Reuters/Alamy

What long-term opioid use does to your body and brain

Rob Poole, Bangor University

Matthew Perry recently revealed that his colon burst as a result of long-term opioid abuse.

More newsletters from The Conversation for you:

Ukraine Recap • Imagine climate action • Global Economy & Business • Europe newsletter

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