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How are Our Brains Like Computers?

Similarities and Differences.

One day ladies will take their computers for walks in the park and tell each other, ‘My little computer said such a funny thing this morning.’”

-       Alan Turing, Time Magazine, Mar. 29, 1999


Every day most of us use two different memory and information-processing systems: our brain and our computer. There are many similarities between the two systems, such as: growing memory, energy, the ability to be damaged, information transit, ability to do tasks, and being studied by scientists.  In short, the human brain is a type of computer.

             A person’s memory grows over time due to encoding, and a computer has the same ability. The process of encoding is similar in both systems. In the brain, encoding is the transformation of information into a form that can be stored in memory. When you see something, your brain encodes it into a form for the second process of storage. Similarly, the process of converting one digital format to another is called encoding in the computer world.

            Your brain cells need two times more energy than the other cells in your body. Neurons have a great demand for energy because they’re always in a state of activity. This nerve transmission consumes one-half of all the brain’s energy (nearly 10% of the whole body’s energy). Likewise, computers take up energy, taking up about as much as your refrigerator does.

            Ever gotten a virus on your computer? Many viruses can be taken care of quickly and do minimal harm. But there are some that completely damage your entire information-processing system. Likewise, the brain can be damaged by virus. The viruses are called picornaviruses and hit more than 1 billion people worldwide each year. They include the virus that causes polio, as well as colds and diarrhea. Some can be very minimal, others are very serious. “We think picornavirus family members cross into the brain and cause a variety of brain injuries. For example, the polio virus can cause paralysis,” [Charles] Howe said.[1]

            Information from your brain is transmitted to your entire body through nerves. For example, you touch a hot plate and the nerves from your hand travel up to your brain. Then your brain tells the nerves in your hand to stop touching the hot plate because it is harmful. The computer also has this type of system. When I punch a letter on the keyboard, the wires take a message through the computer so that the letter I just punched appears on the screen. It can therefore take that letter and store it, or search for it on Google through another process of transmission.

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