Early theoretical and simulation work independently undertaken by Packard, Langton and Kauffman suggested that adaptability and computational power would be optimized in systems at the 'edge of chaos', at a critical point in a phase transition between total randomness and boring order. This provocative hypothesis has received much attention, but biological experiments supporting it have been relatively few. Here, we review recent experiments on networks of cortical neurons, showing that they appear to be operating near the critical point. Simulation studies capture the main features of these data and suggest that criticality may allow cortical networks to optimize information processing. These simulations lead to predictions that could be tested in the near future, possibly providing further experimental evidence for the criticality hypothesis.