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Brain Capacity

September 16, 2008

A listener asks: how many gigabytes could the human brain hold?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
A computation on the brain….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Listener Ryan Benning of Fresno, California, called to ask: how many gigabytes of storage does the human brain have? We consulted Robert Birge, a chemist at the University of Connecticut. He says there’s no definitive answer because the brain doesn’t store information the same way a computer does. But you can try to estimate.

ROBERT BIRGE (University of Connecticut): If each neuron were a bit of information, then you would have five terabytes of information in the human brain. But I suspect the human brain is storing much, much more than that – maybe 30, 40 terabytes.

HIRSHON: That’s because the brain stores information in packets through connections between neurons. Those packets could contain anything from a complex visual image to simple smell. A computer, on the other hand, registers everything digitally – as a collection of zeroes and ones. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.