Updated: Jan 23, 2020
... is a common statement. It's meant, I think, as a compliment. But it's beyond me why people think that this is praise. Likewise, in the media, I keep seeing the notion that a supercomputer far outstrips a human brain. It's not just reporters, either, who tend to be literary types who don't relish science and (often) don't care for research. It's accepted on its face by so many that genius minds are often presented in this way. I just don't know where on earth this messed-up notion came from. I wouldn't be talking about this, but that I checked my phone while cooking biscuits. Yes. I brought this on myself by looking at the artwork of women I admire. I saw a statement on Instagram, lauding, "Your brain is a supercomputer" and "your thoughts are the programming it runs". I deleted my reply, but, I'm like:
Or... not really.
It's a loose analogy, I guess. You can say that thoughts you have are the programming you follow. Thoughts really can be, and often are, a self-fulfilling prophesy. That's why it's so important to talk to yourself respectfully and nicely. To be positive about your value and realistic about your abilities. I can see the value of that comparison! But I get the feeling most people don't even question that a super computer is just the new hotness, far better than a piddling human brain.
So let's look at this for a minute. Computers (not talking about quantum computers) and super computers are super-fast serial command processors. There are many threads that execute in order. The processing is far faster than a human action potential (touch action potentials in your brain travel at 179-268 miles per hour, arguably as fast as we get; and pain travels at 1.1-4.5 miles per hour, as slowly as a neuron goes). Computers can complete commands in nanoseconds. They're faster than we are, but they still process commands one by one in order. Meanwhile, the human brain processes so much information at once, that most of it is never raised to the level of consciousness. There's nothing more powerful in the galaxy than the human brain. Yet. (Wait for it.)
So, here's an example of what I'm talking about, courtesy of a supercomputer named 'K' who is the 4th most powerful in the world. K lives in Japan, and its claim to fame is that it was able to recreate a neural network of about 1.73 billion nerves and 10.4 trillion synapses (those little leaping off points between brain neurons). The human brain? Your brain? About 125 trillion synapses and about 100 billion neurons. K, with its 700,000 processor cores and 1.4 million GB of RAM, had 1 job: reconstruct human brain activity. And it did. It took that blazing supercomputer 40 minutes to map 1 second of human brain activity. Impressive!
As yet, the exascale supercomputer needed to simulate a full human brain (or it's assumed this can be done with an exascale) doesn't exist. China says it will have one in 2020. The USA? 2021. But right now your brain is an estimated 30 times more powerful than our supercomputers. Nothing in the galaxy is as powerful a processor. This won't last forever. We will surpass the limits of human brainpower. But, right now? If your thoughts are the programming by which you run, don't so easily believe that the computers we make have the better of us. Well. Not yet. And when that day comes for Artificial Intelligence and computers, my feeling is... they're going to need us.
But for now? No. Your brain is not a supercomputer. The box only wishes.