Today the human beings rely on internet for almost everything – right from looking for information to organizing tasks and storing data. The dependency has reached a point where we can’t imagine surviving for a single day without computers, mobile phones and most importantly, internet connectivity.
While the comparison between the human brain and a computer system may not be a perfect one, it does instigate a few interesting questions. A computer’s ability to store information is limited to the capacity of its hard drive, but does the same logic hold good for human brain as well? If yes, then how much storage space does a human brain have?
In what may come as a pleasant surprise to the internet-dependent souls, a recent study conducted by the California-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies revealed that the human brain has the capacity to store as much information as the entire world wide web. The findings have not only outlined the unbelievable storage capacity of human brains, but also provided better understanding of exactly how information is encoded inside the neurons.
The above mentioned conclusion was reached after closely studying the storage capacity of ‘synapses’ present inside the human brain. Synapses are nothing but the connections between neurons which are responsible for storing information in the human memory. Another point to take note of is that while a computer is capable of storing data in binary bits of 0 and 1, the synapses are much more capable than that. According to the researchers, there are as many as 26 different sizes of synapse. When it is converted in computer terms, each synapse is found to have a capacity of storing 4.7 bits of data.
Here’s a calculation to get a rough estimate of human brain’s capacity.
An average human brain contains around 100 billion neurons and each neuron is capable of making around 1,000 connections (synapses) with the other neurons. These 1,000 potential synapses created by each neuron are responsible for data storage inside the brain. Now if we multiply the count of neurons (100 billion) by the number of connections (1000) that each of them can make, then we get a whopping 100 trillion data points – which can at the very least account for storing about 1000 terabytes or 1 petabyte of information.
That’s truly an incredible amount of storage space, but perhaps even more astonishing is the brain’s energy-efficiency. One of the highlights of the research is the fact that the human brain can store this gigantic amount of information while consuming just enough power to run a 20 watts light bulb! In comparison, a computer with equivalent capacity would require at-least 1 giga-watts of power to do the same amount of computation.
The human brain is indeed a thing of wonder, a thing to wonder. Scientists are hopeful that the findings from this research would eventually pave way towards the creation of energy-efficient super computers that can mimic the human brain’s data storage and transmission strategies. In the field of medical research, it may also lead to better understanding of the brain diseases caused by dysfunctional or damaged synapses.