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Friday, October 16, 2009

Which is Smarter - Human Brain or Computer?

Computers are sometimes called electronic brains. But are they really brains? Let's compare.

First, let's look at how brains and computers work. A brain uses special cells called neurons that work together to process information and respond with an action. A computer uses a collection of circuits called a microprocessor. One is living cells, the other is electronic circuits. So there's a big difference there.

Now let's consider which is smarter. The answer depends on how you define smart. If smart is speed, a computer wins. A person takes a few seconds to add two 3-digit numbers (245+987). A computer can complete several million long-division problems (387÷243) in a single second. A computer is also tireless. The electronic circuits don't wear out. A human doing long division all day would want lots of breaks—and a good night's sleep.

What if smart is having a good memory? In that case, a computer wins too. A computer can store an entire library of books in its memory and recall them without a single mistake. Now consider a person. Have you ever tried just to memorize a long poem? It's an enormous task for a person to memorize a book.

What if being smart is being able to make well-reasoned decisions? Here a person wins by a huge margin. Computers can only calculate and sort information based on the software we design for them. How good their choices are depend on how good the software is. Compare this to a person. Humans don't need software. We can sort and calculate facts using our knowledge and experience. We also can make judgments and decisions based on whatever facts we're confronted with—not just the facts a computer has been programmed to recognize. In this way, we're a lot smarter than computers.

What if you define smart as the ability to think original thoughts? Here again, humans have an enormous advantage. Humans think original thoughts every day. The evidence of these thoughts is in the inventions, art and books all around us. The computer is one such invention. Are computers capable of original thought? So far, they're not. Artificial intelligence is a field of science devoted to developing devices that someday may be able to reason and solve problems. It's important to remember though that no matter how "intelligent" we make computers, they will only be as smart as the software we humans create for them.

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