Computers That Think Like Brains


by Tim Moran

"When it comes to multitasking, even the fastest computers are still miles behind the human brain. Neurons only fire about a thousand times per second--way slower than the petaflops achieved by today's fastest digital processors--yet people are still smarter than computers."

Well, some people, anyway, but we are not going to follow that digression.

This opening quote comes from a story on PopSci.com, titled: "Molecule-Sized Computer Mimics Human Brain At Work".

Why are we generally smarter than computers? It's a concurrent vs. sequential issue:

". . . digital computers process information sequentially, while the brain is a tangled web. Electrical impulses in the brain follow complex neurological networks involving several concurrent operations; computers can't do that."

The article goes on the explain that scientists are hard at work--no doubt concurrently--to make that differentiation moot. "A team of researchers from Japan and Michigan have built a molecular computer whose operation mimics a human brain. The tiny circuit, comprised of organic molecules on a gold substrate, is capable of super-fast concurrent calculations that rival the firing of neurons."

Physicist Ranjit Pati, of Michigan Technological University and one of the researchers, explained how the team has gone about making a smarter computer: they used an organic molecule called DDQ (nitrogen, oxygen, chlorine, carbon) that can switch among four conducting states--0, 1, 2, and 3--rather than just the binary 0 and 1 used by digital computers.

Said Pati, "We have mimicked how neurons behave in the brain. The researchers point out that the organic processor is not only intelligent, it is self-healing, as well. So, if one neuron dies, another is soon there to take its place. While the ultimate uses for such a device are still open to conjecture, the processor, thinks the researchers, "can provide answers for problems that can't be solved by existing computers."

(See Marketers Reading Your Mind for the latest on neuroscience in business and associated headgear.)