Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On the network effect expanding the collective intelligence of our race.

Robert Metcalfe, the individual who invented the Ethernet and the famous Metcalfe's Law (on the power of networks) has a terrific article out on Forbes that talks about the paradox behind the enormous computing power of today’s supercomputers and how they still cannot hold a light against the power of the human brain even if the perceived computing power of the former exceeds the latter by orders of magnitude.
The comparison is between a chip that has about 10^11 transistors clocked at about 10^10 times per second and the brain that does its intelligent computing with about 10^11 neurons and 10^16 synapses that talk at a rate of 10^3 times per second.
Doing the quick math, this means technically the chip and the brain have about the same number (10^11) of transistors (neurons in the brain) - but since the chip is clocked about 6-7 orders of magnitude (10^10/10^3) higher than the brain, it should naturally follow that the chip is about 6-7 times more 'intelligent'.
He uses his network law to explain this seeming paradox taking into account other factors like the numbers of interconnections between neurons rather than just use the number of computations per second as a static factor. He makes sure not to include the as yet poorly understood contribution of glial cells...

Nice read, but now I have a bit of a headache (not too sure if my neurons overclocked in trying to understand it).

Note: Image ripped from my print copy of the Forbes magazine..

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