General Question

talljasperman's avatar

What is the storage capacity of the human brain vs. an average computer?

Asked by talljasperman (21875points) August 31st, 2013

I can remember quite a bit… so I was wondering if the next generation of computers could use biological human brains for storage? How many 500 Gig hard drives can the human brain hold?

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3 Answers

PhiNotPi's avatar

According to this article by Scientific American, one estimate is 2.5 petabytes.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Translating from @PhiNotPi‘s answer to 500 GB hard disks, it would be a bit over 5200 drives, though the comparison is not great as the way storage works is so much different.

As to your first question, no, unless by ‘next generation’ we’re talking a fair bit more then a standard generation. We just recently (as in, published within the last month) figured out how to grow brain-like structures in the lab. For comparison, we first figured out how to grow cancer cells in a lab over 6 decades ago, and we’re still a long way away from fully understanding (and more relevant to this discussion, controlling) cancer. And again, storage works very differently in a human brain than it does in a computer. Translating between the two just for the purpose of storage seems like a waste.

dolinsky296's avatar

The difference in how the brain stores information and how computers do makes it difficult to gauge the similarity. The brain is more efficient, combining memories to make recalling an entire scene easier. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t work as planned, and you’re left wondering what that word you were looking for was. Neural connection for bit, the commonly referred-to amount is 2.5 petabytes, but if neural “compression” could be simulated with computer data, we may not be as far off.

In actuality, the brain has what on a computer would be partitions. Your brain only stores so much language for easy access, which is why we often forget a word or name. The meaning of that word, though, is not forgotten, as you can often give the definition. This is because the memory of that word is in longer term memory, tucked in to another area of the brain.

Google has been able to analyze things in a similar way to the brain, taking large sets of data and seeing what a general algorithm could learn from it. The computer network running this program for a month was able to learn how to distinguish a cat on any web page. PBS Idea Channel has a great video about this here. To a human, though, of really any age, this would be a very simple task, after seeing maybe half a dozen cats and being told what they are.

My point on that last note, that this task of learning independently from a data set is easy for a human, yet difficult for modern computers, is that what it seems from the modern form of computing is that the brain has its strengths for what can be calculated, and the CPU has its own.

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