Standard computer memory is accessed through assigned addresses. When a user searches for a file, the CPU must convert the request to a numerical instruction and then search through the memory for the corresponding address.
Associative memory in computer technology is also referred to as content-addressable memory. Associative memory can be directly accessed by the content rather than the physical address in the memory.
Content-Addressable vs. Algorithmic Memory
In algorithmic memory processes, the CPU must convert the search requests to binary address codes, find the corresponding address and finally convert this data back to words for the user. With a content-addressable approach, the CPU can simply find the words themselves. This allows the processor to complete in a single clock cycle an action that would normally take multiple clock cycles.
Relation to Human Intelligence
The general idea of associative memory for computers is based on how human intelligence works. Humans learn and recall information much more easily if it is associated with prior knowledge. Information that is related to other content is far easier for humans to recall. Associative memory in computers is based on this same principle.
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