Is Our Brain the World’s Most Efficient Computer?; Man-Computer Symbiosis Nugget

“As has been said in various ways, men are noisy, narrow-band devices, but their nervous systems have very many parallel and simultaneously active channels. Relative to men, computing machines are very fast and very accurate, but they are constrained to perform only one or a few elementary operations at a time. Men are flexible, capable of “programming themselves contingently” on the basis of newly received information. Computing machines are single-minded, constrained by their ” pre-programming.” Men naturally speak redundant languages organized around unitary objects and coherent actions and employing 20 to 60 elementary symbols. Computers “naturally” speak nonredundant languages, usually with only two elementary symbols and no inherent appreciation either of unitary objects or of coherent actions.”

I would presume that when this paper was written in 1960 it would have seemed more like science fiction than a feasible prediction of the computing technology of the near future. However, while reading this paper I believe that we have made great advancements toward (and in some areas far beyond) the level of technology that Licklider discusses in his paper. Gerell describes some of the aspects of Licklider’s vision that we can see today and highlights some that have still yet to be.

It seems as though in this paragraph Licklider attempts to compare and contrast humans with computers. This website does a good job at elaborating on this point.  As he points out, our brain and a computer are inherently different but come with a set of strengths and weaknesses that seem to compliment each other nicely.

For example, the accuracy of computers allows humans to focus on other ideas than performing lengthy calculations or creating complex graphs. The speed with which computers perform these tasks is astronomical compared to our brains, which also frees up a large amount of time for us to think. Computers are also much better than humans at performing complex operations simultaneously.

Our brains, on the other hand are extremely efficient. Running on a relatively miniscule amount of power, our brains not only keep us alive but allow us to think, wonder and question the world around us. As this article points out, computers have one very important advantage to computers; we have an imagination. We can formulate ideas that have never been produced before; whereas computers are limited in the data that they can produce. The article also points out that the brain is much quicker and adept to learning than computers.

With the stark (haha get it? as in Tony Stark) differences and separation between man and computer I see the world of computers being dominant to humans that Sarah portrays as being quite a ways away from where we are today.

This visual aid compares the computing power of our brain with that of the worlds fastest computer (well, three years ago.)

Imelda explores a point that also struck me while reading this article. In two instances, Licklinder uses warfare to illustrate the capabilities of a symbiotic relationship between humans and computers. I would hope that fifty years later we would be more morally developed and have moved past using advancements in science and technology to harm others, but sadly I don’t see that being the case.

Although Katie sees this point in a negative light, I think that allowing computers to aid us in making more calculated and rational decisions could be a very good thing. People tend to occasionally make bad decisions in very emotional situations like getting back together with an ex or going to war. Unlike her, I believe that being less emotional because of computers could very well be helpful in the lives of humans.

Morgan seems to be very wary of human-computer symbiosis (as I am.) I believe that we, as a society, need to determine not if we CAN pursue such an endeavor, but if we SHOULD.

I see our present technological environment as being pretty close to what Licklider envisions in his paper. Humans exploit their knowledge of both their and the computers’ strengths and weaknesses to work together to make thinking and working easier and more efficient. Although we do provide computers with a purpose; their only purpose is to assist humans in their endeavors. For this reason I see our relationship with computers presently as more commensal than symbiotic since we benefit from the relationship whereas computers are relatively unaffected.

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