Computer Memory Chips Vs. Human Memory Comparison
By Aaron Charles
In 1996 the computer Deep Blue beat champion Garry Kasparov in a game of chess. So that's a part of a growing body of evidence that computer memory has completely overtaken human memory, right? Not quite. In spite of the advances in computer memory chip technology and certain limitations on human memory, there's still much that human memory can do which computer memory can't.
Computers and human brains have short-term and long-term memory. For computers, short-term memory is in the form of random access memory (RAM) chip, or what we'd call working memory. This short-term memory helps humans and computers complete immediate tasks. Long-term memory in computers is in the form of hard drives, where various files are stored which can be pulled up and activated on command – similar to memories buried in the brain's long-term memory.
Both human memory and computer memory chips have great capacity, but this is one area where human memory excels. Computer chips may give a computer quite a bit of memory in terms of megabytes or gigabytes. But human memory, supported by nearly 100 billion neurons contributing to over a trillion connections to other neurons, is estimated to have a working capacity of around 2.5 petabytes – or a million gigabytes. Additionally, researcher Peter Russell, in his book "The Brain Book," says that “memory is not like a container that gradually fills up... it is more like a tree growing hooks onto which the memories are hung. Everything you remember is another set of hooks on which more new memories can be attached. So the capacity of memory keeps on growing. The more you know, the more you can know.”
There are similarities, too, in how brains and computers access, or recall, memory. In technical terms, human memory is content-addressable, or memory based on concepts and their relationships with other concepts, as organized and stored in a person's mind. Computer memory, on the other hand, is byte-addressable, or memory based on specific instructions connected with specific files in the computer. So while computer memory chips can be highly consistent – even more so than human memory – in terms of recall, they can only remember when given the command. Human memory, though, while perhaps less consistent, can be more random and diverse in its recollection, depending on various stimuli and multiple senses.
Both brains and computers can "forget," but computer memory chips do this more often by design than do human brains. For example, a computer's working memory "forgets" data when it no longer needs it for a task. Its forgetfulness is by design. But when we as humans forget it's usually unintentional, inconvenient and impractical -- such as when we forget someone's name or an account password. Additionally, computers can suffer "amnesia" or "senior moments" when damage occurs or when overloaded, just like a human brain.
- History: Kasparov Loses Chess Game to Computer
- Applied Knowledge Research and Innovation: Human Memory Models
- Scientific American: What Is The Memory Capacity Of The Human Brain
- Science Blogs: 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers
- Discovery: How Are Computers Like A Brain
- JW.org: Designed To Learn Forever
- Techopedia: What Is A Memory Chip?
Aaron Charles began writing about "pragmatic art" in 2006 for an online arts journal based in Minneapolis, Minn. After working for telecom giant Comcast and traveling to Oregon, he's written business and technology articles for both online and print publications, including Salon.com and "The Portland Upside."