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Simple Math Problems: The Human Brain vs. The Supercomputer

By Ayush Sharma, MS Robotics, Northwestern University (2016). Originally published on Quora.

While working on some seemingly trivial problems I began to appreciate the human brain.

Simple tasks like folding laundry seem second nature to us we don’t even have to think about it. Give the same task to a computer it will probably take a couple of hours to fold it and that too only rectangular pieces of fabric not any irregular shapes.

Our brain is a tremendous learning computer that adapts its wiring to optimize the things needed for our survival. Our brain indeed does perform some pretty complex math problems in our head, take walking or running for example. The math needed to optimally solve the bipedal locomotion problem is immensely difficult for regular computers but it is second nature for us. Our brain is so fast in these calculations that we don’t even need to think about them.

I believe if you train a brain to solve numerical math problems or other numerical tasks that a computer is good at it can easily surpass even the fastest computer. Our brain has to maintain a complex body like ours 24/7 and on top of that solve math problems. A lot of humans train their brains to perform some awesome mathematical calculations, in fact before there were electronic calculators being a calculator was a full time profession.

If you could somehow take a brain and isolate it from a body and provide it with all the energy and nutrition it needs to sustain itself and train it to be a computer it can be a far better computer than any we have. In fact it will be like an advanced sentient learning computer that will eventually learn a lot of the tasks we give it and might even come up with better solutions. Our brain has been trained since humans existed to survive in the world around us and solve the problems we face in our surroundings.

Finally of course this is hypothetical we don’t know how to separate a brain from a body and keep it functioning nor do we know how to interface with it so this is practically not possible, but say in a weird parallel universe our survival depended on quickly solving math problems you can bet our brains would be pretty damn good at it.

By Ayush Sharma, MS Robotics, Northwestern University (2016). Originally published on Quora.
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