10 differences between your brain and a computer

I’ve summarised and adapted the top ten list from an absolutely fascinating post by Chris Chatham on the Developing Intelligence blog that debunks all those metaphors about how the brain is just a wetware computer.

It’s not.

Chatham points out that: “Although the brain-computer metaphor has served cognitive psychology well, research in cognitive neuroscience has revealed many important differences between brains and computers. Appreciating these differences may be crucial to understanding the mechanisms of neural information processing, and ultimately for the creation of artificial intelligence.”

  • Brains are analogue; computers are digital
  • Computers access information in memory by polling a memory address, brains search memories using cues
  • The brain is a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial
  • Processing speed is not fixed in the brain; there is no system clock
  • Short-term memory is not like RAM
  • Computers are hardware that runs software, there is no “mind software” running on brains
  • Synapses are far more complex (electrochemical) than computer logic gates (electrical)
  • Computers use processors and memory for different functions, there is no such distinction in the brain
  • Computers are designed, built and are of fixed architecture, the brain is a self-organizing system
  • Computers have no body, brains do

Oh, by the way, this Top Ten goes all the way to “11”

  • The brain is far more complex than any (current) computer with estimates at 225 million billion interactions between cell types, neurotransmitters, neuromodulators, axonal branches and dendritic spines, and that doesn’t include the influences of dendritic geometry, or the approximately 1 trillion glial cells which may or may not be important for neural information processing…the good-old silicon chip looks like an abacus in comparison…an abacus with one row and one bead!

3 thoughts on “10 differences between your brain and a computer

  1. I would slightly alter the point “Computers have no body, brains do” to “Computers don’t need bodies, brains do”. A Computer, connected to the internet, with a printer, mouse, keyboard, external hard drive, etc. is in some ways similar to body parts. Just like the brain controls and determines the behavior of each body part (heart regulation, hand movement, etc.), the computer controls and determines the behavior of each peripheral. Of course the point could be further argued that the brain of the computer is really the CPU; we can then argue that a CPU is nothing without its motherboard, RAM and PSU, for example. It’s also quite limited without a storage device like a hard drive. But perhaps I’m taking this analogy a bit far.

    The other point that’s worth noting is that the brain only uses memory to better perform its most important functions – remembering things is not its primary function. I think that with computers, functionality is nearly impossible without data storage. It is also generally a lot more reliable on computers, although when they fail, they do so fantastically.

    Perhaps I should bring those points to the original article, however…

    1. Points well taken Jonny. As to the reductionist perspective of computer to cirtcuity, mortherboard to CPU etc…intriguing thought to consider the wetware in this way, down to individual neural networks and neurones…

  2. hi,
    i like to known hoe do u convert the function of biological neurons into the computational i.e data to be normalized to feed into nn

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