Robotics

Can you compare computer processing to thinking?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Some philosophers, technologists and other thinkers have proposed the idea that there is nothing preventing a powerful, appropriately programmed computer from thinking and understanding exactly like humans do [source: Searle]. If we temporarily ignore complex metaphysical questions about things like the soul, we can essentially view the human brain as a data processing unit -- also known as a computer.

    On a basic level, you can compare the data processing of the human brain to the data processing of a computer, but it's going to be difficult if you want to evaluate which is more powerful, or how the individual capabilities of each could be translated to the other. On one hand, computers can perform billions of operations per second -- the fastest computer as of this writing can complete more than two thousand trillion operations in that time. That's a blistering speed -- especially when compared to the human brain, which seems capable of maybe one or two such conscious operations per second. However, the human brain is always operating on multiple levels. You might not always be working out a calculus problem or analyzing a DNA strand in your head, but your brain is still working on making sure your lungs and heart continue to work to keep you alive. Although no one can solve an equation faster than a supercomputer, most people have no trouble navigating a room full of obstacles or keeping their balance after a short jump in the air. These relatively simple tasks are very difficult for computers, which have no intuitive feel for the physical world.

    In order to better understand the brain, researchers are always looking for new ways to interface the brain with computers and to use computers to collect data on our thinking organ. The human brain works by generating electrical impulses between its nerve cells, or neurons. These impulses travel along pathways that are insulated by myelin, but some of the signals escape. These signals can generally be detected and interpreted in one of two ways. One is with an electroencephalograph (EEG), which relies on electrodes being attached to the scalp to detect brain signals. These signals, however, are partially blocked and distorted by the skull. Another way to get higher resolution readings is to implant electrodes directly into the brain or on its surface. This lets electrodes monitor specific areas of brain activity, but it requires invasive surgery and can cause scarring.

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