Computer versus brain

When it comes to computing, the human brain remains much more powerful and more energy-efficient than any technological processing system on the planet.

In fact, developing microchips capable of imitating the way brain synapses work — particularly their ability to process and store information using almost no energy — has long been the goal of computing.
The brain signals that form memories and thoughts move through nerve cells as tiny electrical charges; when a charge reaches a synapse, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that communicate information throughout the brain.

Synapses are essentially the “circuits” that facilitate our thinking, feeling, and activation of movement. And there are plenty of them: with around 100 billion neurons existing in a healthy brain — and each one connected to thousands of others — estimates put the number of synapses in the brain between 100 trillion and 1,000 trillion.

More amazing than their number, though, is their speed: the many trillions of “synaptic connections” in the brain operate at a speed akin to that of a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processor.
To date, even the world’s fastest processors and CPUs have been unable to come close to the processing speed of brain synapses.

Making computers faster is possible, but also demands more energy. That gives the human brain essentially two main components where it has the upper hand over machine. Our immense network of neurons and synapses can rapidly process and store vast amounts of information simultaneously (this is known as “parallel processing”), and carry out parallel processing using very little energy.

A team led by researchers from Exeter, Oxford, and Münster universities has developed specialized photonic microchips, which could one day help to create computers that can store and process huge amounts of information at faster speeds than the human brain can.

Because the microchips are powered by light, they could also execute high-speed computing at a lower power supply than could ever be possible with any electronic processing system.
Estimates are that computers will surpass the capability of human brains around the year 2040, plus or minus a few decades. Whenever computers reach “human capacity,” they may just keep right on improving.

They are not burdened by the constraints that hold back brains. Neurons, for example, are the brain’s building blocks and can only fire about 200 times per second, or 200 hertz. Computer processors are measured in gigahertz: billions of cycles per second. And don’t forget, brains have to be small enough to fit inside skulls, and they can die.
Source: The Time

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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