Is our brain more complex than a supercomputer?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

K Supercomputer 2
The K Computer is manufactured by Fujitsu and is installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science in Kobe, Japan.

It’s easy to compare computers to our brains. Certain parts of the ol’ noggin are responsible for storing memory, just like a computer’s hard drive. Our mind has billions of neurons which use electrical signals to send messages from the brain, just like the electrical wires running inside a data processor. Even with these similarities, no piece of technology comes close to the level of complexity that makes us function. A team of researchers from Germany and Japan didn’t let that fact stop them from trying to copy it!

The Okinawa Institute of Technology Graduate University in Japan teamed up with Jülich Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Germany to simulate the complex network in our brain. They used a computer called the K Computer, which is the fastest one in the whole world. Just how fast is it, you ask? Well, if everyone in the world makes a computation every second for 17 days, it would take the K Computer only 1 second to do the same work! Geez, that’s fast.

The researchers used a computer program called NEST in order to make their own version of the brain on the K Computer. How did they do it? Well, they created a network of 1.73 billion “nerve cells” with 10.4 trillion connections. That’s right, trillions! That has to be at least 10 times the power of what the brain can do right?

Actually, the computer barely managed to copy a measly 1% of brain power. Ha! I know when my iPod is about to die, 1% seems like next to nothing! Also, it took the computer 40 minutes to do what the brain can do in 1 second! Hm. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so fast. The numbers may not have impressed me, but brain experts are shocked the technology could even get that much.

The Japanese researchers are already making the next generation of the K Computer, which will be much faster than this one. They are hoping to complete it my 2020. Maybe by then they can get 2% brain power. If they get any more than that, then I’ll definitely be impressed!

Images courtesy of Fujitsu and RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science.