The Computer and the Brain (The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series)

The Computer and the Brain (The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series)

Language: English

Pages: 136

ISBN: 0300181116

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this classic work, one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century explores the analogies between computing machines and the living human brain. John von Neumann, whose many contributions to science, mathematics, and engineering include the basic organizational framework at the heart of today's computers, concludes that the brain operates both digitally and analogically, but also has its own peculiar statistical language.

In his foreword to this new edition, Ray Kurzweil, a futurist famous in part for his own reflections on the relationship between technology and intelligence, places von Neumann’s work in a historical context and shows how it remains relevant today.

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information theory and presented optimal methods of error detection and correction codes that can achieve any target accuracy through any nonrandom channel. Older readers will recall telephone modems that transmitted information through noisy analog phone lines, which included audible hisses and pops and many other forms of distortion, but nonetheless were able to transmit digital data with very high accuracy rates, thanks to Shannon’s noisy-channel theorem. The same issue and the same solution

functioning. For one thing, it is quite conceivable that these complexities play no useful functional role at all. It is, however, more interesting to point out that they might conceivably have such roles and that a few things can be said about these possibilities. It is conceivable that in the essentially digitally-organized nervous system the complexities referred to play an analog or at least a “mixed” role. It has been suggested that by such mechanisms more recondite over-all electrical

of the concepts familiar in computing machine theory is in order. In view of this, the following question immediately presents itself: when looking at the nervous system as at a computing machine, with what precision is the arithmetical part to be expected to function? This question is particularly crucial for the following reason: all experience with computing machines shows that if a computing machine has to handle as complicated arithmetical tasks as the nervous system obviously must,

intelligence. There are very few discussions in this book that I find to be at significant odds with what we now understand. We are not in a position today to describe the brain perfectly, so we would not expect a book from 1956 on reverse engineering the brain to do so. That being said, von Neumann’s descriptions are remarkably up to date, and the details on which he bases his conclusions remain valid. As he describes each mechanism in the brain, he shows how a modern computer could accomplish

produced a substantially new science. Thanks to many recent experimental techniques (such as electron and confocal microscopy, patch clamping, electro- and magneto-encephalography, CAT scans, PET scans, and MRI scans), we now have a much better picture of the brain’s filamentary microstructure, the electrochemical behavior of its microscopic parts, and its global activities during various forms of conscious cognition. Though still the home of many mysteries, the brain is no longer the “black box”

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