Your Brain is More Powerful than the Entire Internet
By David DiSalvo / Forbes
All of us are walking around with the capacity of the entire internet in our skulls, according to a recent study on neural computing power. That’s about ten times the capacity previously thought to be the brain’s upper limit.
Researchers with the Salk Institute used a brain imaging technology called “advance microscopy” to peer into synapses, the juncture points between neurons, specifically in the hippocampus, the hub of the brain’s memory center.
While prior studies have shown that synapses come in more than one size, and can even change their shape, the latest research found 10 times more discrete sizes of synapses than previously thought to exist. The more sizes of synapses, the researchers report, the greater the brain’s computing power and information storage capacity.
The new capacity estimate is about a petabyte – roughly the capacity of the World Wide Web.
“This is a real bombshell in the field of neuroscience,” said study co-senior author Terry Sejnowski. “We discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power.”
The research team identified 26 sizes of synapses, which they say corresponds to about 4.7 “bits” of information.
“Previously, it was thought that the brain was capable of just one to two bits for short and long memory storage in the hippocampus,” said study co-author Thomas Bartol, a staff researcher at the Salk Institute. “This is roughly an order of magnitude of precision more than anyone has ever imagined.”
The researchers think the finding has remained hidden for so long because the size differences between synapses is amazingly small, but within those tiny variations lies immense computing power. Much as we’re able to pack increasingly more power into smaller and smaller computer processors, the brain conceals almost unfathomable power in the tiniest structural variations.
“This was a curveball from nature,” added Bartol.
The discovery may eventually lead to more efficient computer processing designs that yield more power from less energy.
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