David Papp Blog

The Supercomputer Race vs The Human Brain

There is a list updated twice a year with the Top 500 supercomputers in the world. Along with this, it’s a constant race to see who can nab that number one spot. Titan and Sequoia seem to be the top 2.

As of June of 2012, Sequoia is an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer located at Lawrence Livermore in California capable of 16 petaflops (16 quadrillion calculations per second) and took the number one spot over Japan’s K computer. It is equal to roughly 20 million laptops. It has 98,000 nodes.

Then in November of 2012, Titan took the number one spot. It is located in Oak Ridge, a Tennessee lab run by the Department of Energy. This Cray machine is made of 19,000 16-core AMD processors and capable of 20 petaflops (20 thousand trillion calculations per second).

Going over these stats is mind boggling but that sparked a question that begged to be answered. How powerful is the human brain?

The human cortex has about 22 billion neurons and 220 trillion synapses. Researchers figure that simulating the human brain would require at least 36.8 petaflops and a memory capacity of 3.2 petabytes. Crazy! We are getting very close though certainly there would be other factors involved.

In November 2011, the total supercomputing power of the Top 500 list was 74.2 petaflops.

It is estimated that Google has well over 20 petaflops of processing power in their empire.

Do you feel simulating the human brain is ever going to be possible?

18 thoughts on “The Supercomputer Race vs The Human Brain”

  1. A computer will never be able to replace the uniqueness and complexity of the human brain. I don’t care how powerful it is. Human beings cannot be replaced.

  2. This is quite impressive, but it shows us that the human brain is not to be underestimated. Man made thing cannot compare with what God has created. We seem to be getting more and more lazy nowadays by making better computer equipment. We have always had the best computer in our brain. It’s about time we use it more often instead of being totally reliant on computers.

  3. The only real advantage I see on super computers above the human brain is that in the case of SC’s we can use all of the computers capacity and in the human brain we have almost unlimited capacity but we only use a very small and almost insignificant percentage of its REAL capacity.

  4. These super computers are one hell of a machine, really powerful and rad. But I think that no matter how powerful any super computer can get it can never replace or be at par with the human brain. Super computers can do calculations in an amazing speed, can solve complex problems but they can never feel compassion, love and all the humanizing qualities of a person.

    • Said quite beautifully Katherine. Scientists think that they’re so great for building certain devices, but they can never compete with what God has created. There are quite ignorant to think that just because they have some knowledge they know everything there is to know. Even Siri can’t be perfected, so what are they ranting about.

    • That is very beautiful indeed. If ever a computer gets as powerful as the human mind, I’d think scientists would still need a very complex AI to handle all the processes that our minds are capable of. That would probably be much longer in the future than having a supercomputer with the same “specs” as our functional brains. Religion aside, it would be very interesting to think of the possible answers the technology would bring about how our minds work.

      • I don’t think computers would be able to psychoanalyze human beings in a fruitful manner. That’s asking a little too much from a machine. Even if a computer could determine what was wrong with my mind, there’s no way that I would trust the computer’s answer. Some fields are best left to the humans.

  5. At this point computers are useful for completing our tasks. We can think of them as tools — very, very powerful tools indeed that are getting remarkably more powerful.

    But I believe that there are still profound differences between the human brain and the supercomputer. We can’t even begin to fathom — let alone come up with a unit of measurement — for the human brain and its elusive qualities of creativity and abstract thought. We can’t calculate that by the number of petaflops alone.

  6. Computers have gone a long way indeed, but still very far from the capacity of human intelligence. I don’t think petaflops is a good basis for comparison w/ the human brain. There are a lot of things neurologists don’t understand about the brain to this day.

    • I think the petaflops thing can only be used for comparing the possible capabilities of a computer or the human mind. Our brains are still too complex to simulate even the best AIs won’t be able to still catch up. Although I’ve read about other creepy AIs doing very complex processes, it still won’t be able to represent a whole human being.

      • I agree. Computers, no matter how sophisticated they are, lack life experience, and the emotional growth and development that comes over the course of years of life and the accumulation of memories. There is not the same interaction that humans have with one another than can leave us enlightened, challenged, and changed. From the emotional realm and what it brings to knowledge and ability for humans, there is simply no comparison.

        But yet it’s a perennial theme in science fiction; witnessing computers become like humans, with the same complexity of emotion.

  7. Ha, what an article. It reminds of me when ken jennings faced off against the computer on jeopardy. Still, a computer will never replace the human being due to the emotional complexities of humans. It really is what makes us, “us” so to speak.

  8. A computer has to be programmed but the human brain is very complex. The truth is there may be things that computers can get accomplished in a faster space of time and more accurately than a human being, however a human being still has to supervise the computer.

    • Yes, the human brain is super complex and to be honest I doubt they will ever be able to build a supercomputer with the same capabilities as the human brain. I very much doubt it. Our brain is a wonderful thing, actually we do have a lot potential, but we just don’t know how to use it. We use only the 10% of our brain at any given time… imagine if we used the 50%!!!!

  9. I’ve actually heard that it’s possible to now simulate 1 second of human brain activity. But the problem is, is that it takes 40 minutes to process. So we’re getting closer to being able to simulate human brain activity in real time, but we’ll still need to grow and expand these supercomputer clusters if we’d like to fully achieve the goal of simulating human brain activity.

  10. The human brain is amazing, it’s sad we don’t use it to it’s full capacity. I read we only use the 10% of our brain at any given time, imagine if we used the 40% at least? The things we would manage to do! I wonder what a super computer could do? I hope to live long enough to see that. I wonder if said computer would be gifted with artificial intelligence as well?

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