The human brain and a computer work similarly to each other, but differences in how the two work make each better suited for different jobs. Try imagining a world where you couldn't tell the difference between artificial intelligence or a real person; while the notion of an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"-style scenario with computer-like aliens replacing people is a bit terrifying, the future is not all doom and gloom -- everyone wins when an automated tech support system works just as well as a human specialist, for example.
While computer software is getting better at mimicking how the human brain works, the hardware side is responsible for the progress bottleneck. A computer CPU handles a small number of simultaneous high speed processes with a massive, shared, processor-independent memory deposit. The human brain handles millions of simultaneous processes that each have their own dedicated memory. The computer is better at crunching numbers but the human brain stomps the computer when recognizing visual stimuli; so, while we're better at interpreting the world around us, machines are better at processing what they already understand. For example, IBM's TrueNorth processor model, unveiled in August 2014, features a human brain-like architecture on a smaller scale.
The human brain is better than a computer at understanding what words in a sentence mean; computers struggle understanding words with multiple meanings. The Turing Test measures the language capability threshold where a computer is able to pass as a person -- a machine passes the test if it can convince 30 percent of judges that it is human. A computer system referred to as "Eugene Goostman" posing as a 13-year-old boy from Odessa, Ukraine passed the test in 2014. However, experts consider the Eugene Goostman results skewed because posing the machine as a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy made the judges less critical of linguistic mistakes.
Computers can surpass the human brain at making quick decisions based on a massive amount of information. For example, IBM's Deep Blue computer was the first machine to beat a world chess champion at chess in 1997, demonstrating superior complex problem-solving data analysis skills. But Deep Blue is only capable of making decisions related to chess; the machine can't devise new strategies outside of its programming. While the brain can easily apply the concepts in chess to a game like checkers, for example, Deep Blue can't.
Until the 2010s, brains had a near monopoly over computers at learning and applying new concepts. IBM's Watson, the famous (or infamous) super computer that appeared as a game show contestant on national TV, is a major step forward in cognitive computing: Watson is programmed to learn information and develop responses based on known information instead of picking from pre-programmed responses. Watson is able to learn and interpret digital information from the Internet and databases but is unable to match the sensory interpretation of the brain. Outside of systems like Watson, computers only learn via programming updates. Oh, and for the record, Watson beat the Jeopardy champions.
- MIT Technology Review: IBM Chip Processes Data Similar to the Way Your Brain Does
- Wired: IBM Unveils a 'Brain-Like' Chip With 4,000 Processor Cores
- Cnet: IBM's TrueNorth Processor Mimics The Human Brain
- The Verge: Computer Allegedly Passes Turing Test for First Time by Convincing Judges It Is a 13-Year-Old Boy
- LA Times: Did a Computer Finally Pass the Turing Test? Signs Point to "No."
- IBM Smarter Planet: What Is Watson?
- LA Times: Watson Wins 'Jeopardy!' Finale; Ken Jennings Welcomes 'Our New Computer Overlords'
- IBM History: Deep Blue
- Photo Credit icetocker/iStock/Getty Images
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