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Battle for Superiority - Man vs Machine

Sylvester Torsman
Sylvester Torsman

The human brain is unique and has been compared to many a thing. Its remarkable cognitive capacity has allowed the invention of the wheel, building of pyramids and landing on the moon. In the past, it was compared to a water clock and later, also to the switchboard of a telephone. Now with man's most recent invention, there stands no other competitor so close in comparison to the human brain than the computer.
One thing that separated and made humans distinct from other creatures was their intelligence and ability to make decisions on their own without external interference. Human beings were rulers but now there is the rising fear of machines taking over the planet with the invention of the computer that has been assigned artificial intelligence. Artificial Intelligence, simply known as AI is a computer system which has the ability to perform tasks that ordinarily require human intelligence.  

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Some people of renown in the world of science and technology recently sounded the alarm about the threats these improvements are posing. They postulated a possible domination by the machines (computers) due to their unsupervised superior intelligence, potentially leading us into a certain kind of slavery.
This article is to provide distinct characteristics of the brain and the computer and juxtaposing them to see their semblance and relativity. Take note that the brain is very complex and we are only "scratching the surface" in understanding how it works. The "artificial challenger", computers and how they are getting more and more powerful and subtle as the AI advances will also be addressed. Would it be possible to have a transfer of minds into a machine? Would the computer be capable of a self, nonneuromorphic intelligence? Keep reading to find out.

But what is a computer in the first place and why this comparison?

What is a Computer?
The computer, in simple terms is a device that processes, stores, and displays information. The term "computer" was originally given to humans (human computers) who performed numerical calculations using mechanical calculators, such as the abacus and slide rule, but now the term almost universally refers to automated electronic machinery.  The term was later given to a mechanical device as they began replacing the human computers.

Why comparisons to the brain?

Well, to keep things simple, we will limit the comparison to these four areas;

  1. Means of Information transmission
  2. Storage
  3. Processing Speed
  4. Energy Efficiency
  5. Memory

They both require electrical signals to send information. Signals from the central nervous system in the brain are responsible for sending messages. With the computer, its impulses originate from electric signals which travel at high speeds through wires in the computer.

Another major similarity between the computer and the brain is their use of memory which has the capacity to grow. Now, a computer memory stores data or programs i.e., sequences of instructions on a either temporary or permanent basis by use of chips.
In comparison, the human brain comprises of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, which amounts to more than a trillion connections. Assuming each neuron could only store a single memory, it would be possible to run out of space. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in a USB flash drive or an iPod. Even so, the neurons combine so that each one assists the other with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). In effect, this is similar to the computer which also uses chips (ROM, RAM, Hard Disks, etc) as memory to store information. Supercomputers have memory capacities around 300 gigabytes and more.

Another comparison between the two, the brain and computer is their use of energy. Whereas a computer needs constant supply of power, either from batteries or electricity, the brain requires food (must be healthy, by the way) and oxygen to function properly. In terms of how energy efficient they both are, the computer is less efficient. The computer requires about 100 Watts of power. On the other hand, the human brain runs on about 10 Watts of power, which is about 10 times more efficient than the computer. So though they both use energy, the brain requires less energy, which means less cost to manage it.

Last but not least is their processing speed. When these two are compared, the brain stands no chance at all. In computer language, there are what are known as cycles. Cycles are basically groupings of information - and they are completed when all the instructions in the group are completed. The processing speed refers to the number of cycles per second at which the central processing unit of the computer operates. The more the cycles per second, the faster data is processed, signifying the faster tasks given to the computer is completed.
The brain can perform at most about a thousand basic operations per second, or 10 million times slower than the computer.
Thus, the brain and the computer have several similarities albeit there are several disparities in the advantages of one over the other.

Conclusion
Although there has been advancement in technology over the years, and computers have somewhat grown more smaller and yet more powerful, I think the advantage leans closer to the brain because these computers were developed by people's thinking caps. It is hard to know whether or not to lie awake at night worrying about AI’s threat to humanity, but the idea that machines can get much smarter is important to all of us.Until a computer can, with its own ability, create something based on its own decision, I think the brain will always have the advantage. But if such a thing is possible, as there has been some advancements in this field, through inventions like Siri and Google, that are controlled by machines that adjust themselves to become better, the world might be in danger in some decades to come. In any case, I strongly believe the evolving nature of man is a mystery on its own.