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BLOG: The human computer still rules

AvantiKumar | Jan. 7, 2013
One small positive thought for the new year is that the gap between our brain and the computer is wider than you might think.


The 'rise of the machines' and the 'Internet of connected things' adds to our perception of an increasingly complex and stressful environment. Or so goes the opinions many people from different walks of life have expressed to me in recent years. Popular novels and movies add to the notion that the day is drawing close when the machines finally take over.

As we move into another year, filled no doubt with challenges on different fronts, it is often useful to take a moment to consider the fundamentals. The computers that we are supposedly masters of have moved into new areas in the last few months. Memory, bandwidth and the mobile devices are some of the drivers to what has been a time of rapid changes. The ability to squeeze complex events - such as the London Olympics - into one smart screen hides a mass of IT assets, processes and of course people.

Turning to the IT system that nature supposedly made, let's consider the 'wiring' in our brain that lies in two hemispheres: the left and the right, as many of us have now heard many times especially in these team training and management courses. There are about 100 billion nerve cells in the brain and each of these communicates with the others through connections called synapses. "The total number of possible connections is 25,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000," according to Harvard Medical School professor of medicine, Herbert Benson (writing back in 1987). "Put it another way, if you made a stack of sheets of standard typing paper, with one sheet for each neuron connection, the resulting pile of paper would be about 16 billion light years high - stretching beyond the limits of the known universe." Another brain researcher, University of California Robert Ornstein M.D. said that the number of possible connections in the brain is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.

The point for the new year to all this is that the human computer still rules, despite all surface expectations. The possibilities for making changes in all areas of our thinking and our life have become even clearer. Harvard's Dr Benson concludes that the brain's potential for forming new pathways - new habits of thought and behaviour - are practically unlimited. "It's largely the established circuits of the left brain that are telling us, 'You can't change your way of living...Your bad habits are forever...You're just made in a certain way, and you have to live with that fact.' That is simply not true."

He added that scientific research has shown that 'electrical activity between the left and right sides of the brain becomes coordinated during certain kinds of meditative activity or deep creative thinking.' Through these types of brain computer activity, the brain definitely 'becomes more capable of being altered and having its capacities maximised when you are in this state of enhanced left-right hemispheric communication.'

"A plasticity of cognition occurs, in which you actually change the way you view the world, especially if you focus on some sort of directed thought, and a rewiring of brain circuits toward more positive directions takes place."

He reminds us that to change habits and behaviour first requires a rewiring or inner ICT upgrade. The best part about this positive thought is that this kind of ICT project will not negatively impact your ICT budget for this year. On behalf of the team, we wish you many positive happy 'rewirings' and a smooth year ahead.

- AvantiKumar, Editor, Computerworld Malaysia & Malaysia Country Correspondent for Fairfax Tech Channels


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