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How do computers contain so much information in them? They are so small, but we are bigger and contain less information?
Question Date: 2000-04-11
Answer 1:

That's a good question, it is amazing how much information computers pack into a small place. The people who design them have figured out how to make really small electrical circuits and tiny codes for information. So computers are good at storing lists of things like phone numbers, and they can do math really fast.

But even though we are bigger and can't remember as many phone numbers, I think there is even more information in people that computers don't have. Computers can't play soccer like us and they don't know what beans taste like. They can't make new music and they don't know what things smell like. So I think there is so much more information in humans that computers don't have at all. Computers can only store the information that humans put into them and can only do the things that humans program them to do.

Answer 2:

I suspect you might get a more detailed answer from some of the biology folks, but seeing how the question you asked pertains to computers, I thought I would give you my thoughts on this matter.I think, for starters, it is somewhat difficult to compare people and computers and "information." However, I have two quick ideas that you might consider looking into.

The first involves the DNA molecules. DNA is short of deoxyribonucleic acid, and is basically like a set of blueprints for the body. Every cell of your body has DNA. The DNA in just one nucleus of one human cell contains about 3 billion "base pairs." If, for simplicity, we consider each "base pair" to be a "bit" of information, that would mean that every cell of your body would have at least 300 million "bytes" of data, or about 300 Megabytes (to compare to computers)! Now, just think about how many cells there are in your body, and you can see how there is a vast amount of information stored in you!

The second comparison might be about what is stored in your brain. Before, we talked about information in your cells that is "hardwired" into your system. Information that your body uses, although the information isn't readily accessible to you. So the natural thing to next consider is the human brain.I have read that there are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain. It would difficult thinking of neurons in terms of "information" but if we folow the same analysis as done previously and estimate each neuron as 1 bit of data, that would still equate to about 10 Gigabytes of information! In actuality, it is likely that each neuron is more complex, so the estimation of 10 GB is very much on the low end.

Another thing to think about is that neurons are approximately 10 microns (there are 1000 microns in 1 millimeter) in width, so you can see how tightly packed together they are! Consider now, that state-of-the-art processing techniqus that make computer processers, etc., give sizes on the order of 15 microns. When you consider all the things that your brain does at once (regulates your heart, lungs, whatever you're thinking about, etc.) you can appreciate the speed at which it really works at!

Now, in terms of storing various pieces of information, I don't think anybody really has a good idea of how much information is really stored in the brain. Certainly, if you had a big enough hard drive on your computer, you could store every word from every book from every library in the world, whereas a person wouldn't be able to store all that information for recollection. One thing to think about, is how much information would be good to store for person? Think about how much information your senses translate every day for your whole life. If you stored absolutely all of that data, it would be impossible to sort through it all, much like it can hard to find one file on a big computer disk that is completely full. So, is it possible that part of the reason we don't store everything, is just for manageability? Possibly. But what the brain can do, is build paths that allow people to think more abstractly and build upon prior experiences, and not simply regurgitate information as computers do.

Answer 3:

Dear Salvador and Alex:
Hmmm, it is all about perspective here... Sure, it is true that computers (really, the chips in computers) can contain/store lots of information.
Did you know that computer scientists can only WISH that they could create a computer or a chip that had even a fraction of the computing power that your brain has? Consider that your heart beats, you take breaths and you blink without even "thinking" about it. Now, look at your computer screen--think for a moment about how fast you are reading this and processing the information! What fraction of your brain cells do you think are being used to do this? Right now, the cells in your body are processing amzing amounts of information and adjusting in response to that information; for example, the Islet cells in your pancreas are monitoring your blood sugar levels (which your brain really cares about) and adjusting the amount of insulin accordingly. Ever wonder why you feel "hungry"? Now think some more about your body-- look at your hand. Move your pinky. How did that happen? YOU are an amazing biological "computer" that can not only process information, but can also LEARN. So, I encourage you to check out some books and websites on something called "artificial intelligence" (AI).

Answer 4:

Actually, humans are enormously more complicated and store much more information than computers do. We just take it for granted sometimes because most of what goes on in our bodies is automatic. Computers may be better at some tasks than people
(such as doing incredibly boring and tedious calculations quicker than we could, and without complaint) but people can do all sorts of things that computers can't. How many things can you do that a computer can't? How many computers today will still be "useful" by the time you go off to college?

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