June 13, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

World’s Fastest Computer Approaches Brain Power

IBM has broken the petaflops barrier.  What’s that, you ask?  In computing lingo, it stands for a quadrillion floating-point operations per second.  The new Roadrunner supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory has set a new record for computing speed that may usher in a new era of scientific analysis of complex systems: “Roadrunner gives scientists the ability to quickly render mountainous problems into mere molehills, or model systems that previously were unthinkably complex.”  Such as?….
    Science Daily reported something even more amazing.  Roadrunner is now able to mimic some of the complex neural reactions going on in the human brain.  “To date, computers have been unable to match human performance on such visual tasks as flawlessly detecting an oncoming automobile on the highway or distinguishing a friend from a stranger in a crowd of people,” the article said.  “Roadrunner is now changing the game.”
    One test program called PetaVision tries to model how the brain performs vision.  “PetaVision models the human visual system–mimicking more than 1 billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses.”  Because there are about a quadrillion synapses in the human brain, an artificial brain is finally entering the ballpark of keeping up with the biological computer.
    One researcher put it, “Just a week after formal introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago.”  Imagination is a human intellectual skill carried on with the aid of the brain.  It’s not clear if the researchers have calculated how many petaflops would be required to perform that feat.  It might require exaflops (quintillions), zettaflops (sextillions) or yottaflops (septillions), if one can imagine such numbers.

Did you catch the point of this story?  Decades of human intelligent planning and engineering and experience have gone into producing a monstrosity of big iron that is just now getting up to the capability of keeping up with one operation of your brain, vision.  The man-made machine occupies a room of metal, wires, and sophisticated circuitry that requires electricity, artificial cooling and a team of system administrators, to say nothing of programmers, to operate.
    Your brain, by contrast, occupies only three pounds of soft tissue.  It is self-contained on a mobile platform.  And it’s doing a lot more than processing vision.  It is keeping tabs on trillions of cells, running your heart, lungs, digestive tract, spleen, pancreas, liver, glands, immune system and dozens of other systems in the background without your conscious control, responding to hearing, smell, taste, touch, balance, temperature and kinesthetic senses, searching through memories, thinking, imagining, feeling and much more.  All this occurs in a compact space of only 1350 cc.  You don’t have to plug it in.  You don’t have to keep it in a refrigerated room.  You can take it skiing or out to the desert, and you can even swim with it.  And it runs on hamburgers and water!
    This article should be standing in awe of the brain, but it’s all about glorifying man for building his own paltry excuse for a computer.  Inside their own skulls is the most astonishing supercomputer in the known universe!  Where is the praise to the Creator that should be due for His gift of such a powerful and multi-functional machine?  On the contrary, the common mythology of our day is that brains evolved by chance over millions of years of undirected, random processes.
    Learn to see the real take-home lesson in science news.  The important lesson is not always the hyped one.

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Categories: Amazing Facts, Human Body

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