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See Inside November 2011

Computers versus Brains

Computers are good at storage and speed, but brains maintain the efficiency lead

For decades computer scientists have strived to build machines that can calculate faster than the human brain and store more information. The contraptions have won. The world’s most powerful supercomputer, the K from Fujitsu, computes four times faster and holds 10 times as much data. And of course, many more bits are coursing through the Internet at any moment. Yet the Internet’s servers worldwide would fill a small city, and the K sucks up enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. The incredibly efficient brain consumes less juice than a dim lightbulb and fits nicely inside our head. Biology does a lot with a little: the human genome, which grows our body and directs us through years of complex life, requires less data than a laptop operating system. Even a cat’s brain smokes the newest iPad—1,000 times more data storage and a million times quicker to act on it. 

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