A series of rat experiments performed by Salk Institute researchers revealed that human brain’s memory capacity could turn any computer green with envy. The recent study also shows that our brains can store ten times more information than we have previously estimated.
According to the research, if we would use 3 MB songs to measure the amount of data our brains can store and retrieve throughout our lives, it would take us about 2,000 years to play all the songs without repeating any of it.
The capacity is quite amazing for just 3 pounds of grey matter, researchers noted.
In their research, scientists used computer models of rat brains to get an approximate memory capacity of the human brain. The team focused on synapses, or neural links that can store information. The models showed that each link can store up to 4.7 bits of information.
By multiplying this amount with the number of synapses the human brain has, researchers found that the storage capacity could amount to 1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, 1,024 Terabytes also known as a petabyte. In other words, this capacity could be translated in 333,333,333 mp3 songs.
Study authors also gained interesting insights on the brain’s ability of organizing and managing incredible amounts of information in a very energy-efficient way. Plus, our bodies have ways to store memories that are free of glitches and system errors that often hinder machine learning algorithms.
Paul J. Reber of the Northwestern University believes, however, that the findings may be inaccurate. Even though he deemed the research ‘robust,’ he noted that the human brain in reality could hold up to 5 petabytes worth of info.
Salk researchers explained that the brain manages memories just like intelligent machines manage data. For instance, computers that use artificial intelligence to learn often switch off artificial ‘neural cells’ to stay away from false assumptions. This happens when the data is too complex and can lead to errors such as invalid associations, which could also waste energy.
Tom Bartol, the Salk study’s lead author, explained that in neuroscience the speed at which a message gets across a synapse greatly depends on how robust the synapse is. Messages are successfully transmitted to one nerve cell to another via synapses only 10 to 20 percent of the time. This is a smart strategy to save energy, Bartol added, because the brain would have wasted 80 percent more energy if synapses were active all the time.
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