StoneHeader Stone Throwing StoneHeader


While reading last months copy of the leading computer magazine - PC Format - I came across a short article on mimicking the human brain.
In this article they spoke of a project using much the same principle as the American SETI project where available computers from all over the world are linked together via the internet in order to produce enough accumulated processing power to perform their required calculations.
The purpose of this exercise was to gather enough computing power to mimic the human brain. This led me to ask the question - is the human brain really that powerful in terms of processing power.




As most of us know the computer can do mathematical calculations at a speed that the human brain could never, but on the other hand a human can recognize faces faster and with more success than a computer. So then how much computing power is required to match the speed of the brain?

I couldn't answer that question, but I did get thinking about how much processing the brain does in order to perform simple tasks that we carry out without much conscious thought.

Now in the light of this discussion I invite you to consider the following light hearted, but hopefully thought provoking scenario.






A man stands in a field. For argument sake lets call him Garreth. Garreth stands in the field minding his own business until another man, shall we call him Dylan, comes along on his morning jog. If you would picture the scene: Dylan is running across Garreth's view from left to right about thirty meters in front of him. (Diagram)

Garreth looks over to Dylan and is offended by the slogan on his T-shirt. So Garreth decides to pick up a stone and throw it at him. Luckily for him there is a stone at his feet. He bends down and picks it up then throws it at Dylan striking him on the head. Dylan falls to the ground and Garreth smiles contently feeling rather good about himself.





Now lets consider what happens between the time that Garreth clasps the stone in his hand and the time it leaves his fingertips enroute to Dylan's head.

First as Garreth straightens his back his brain is already analyzing the stone. He is estimating the weight of the stone in order to calculate whether or not it has sufficient weight to be thrown that far. Once the brain is happy that the weight is sufficient it analyses the shape of the stone in order to find a suitable grip which will allow him to throw the stone accurately. Then it places the fingers in the most appropriate position for the throw, one that will maximize distance as well as accuracy.

Now the real calculations begin. The brain must estimate the distance from Garreth to Dylan. It must calculate how much force must be applied in the throw to cover the distance but not overshoot the mark. Together with this it must calculate the upward angle at which the stone is to be thrown in order to compensate for the effects of gravity and get the right arc. This arc is dependent on the force applied to the stone as it leaves the hand.
Remember now that Dylan is moving. Garreth's brain must now estimate the speed at which Dylan is running and the time it will take the stone to reach him. Then it must calculate the point in front of Dylan at which Garreth must aim in order for the stone to meet him where the paths cross. It must also take into consideration the direction and speed of the wind at that moment as this will affect the speed and angle of the stones trajectory.

Now that the calculations are done, the brain must place Garreth's feet and body in a position that will allow him to produce the required power without throwing himself of balance. Then the brain has to take control of his muscles and instruct a great many muscles on razor fine movements required to accurately perform the task at hand.
In addition to this the brain is remembering many other stone throws from the past to use as a reference in order to make the best throw.
All this is done while simultaneously performing tasks like breathing, heartbeat and balance. And should Garreth have some measure of conscience, he will also be considering the justification and consequences of his actions.

Now consider that all this was done in under a second with virtually no conscious thought from Garreth. How that translates into computing power is difficult to estimate, but it does serve to illustrate how much processing power is required by our brains to perform tasks that on the surface seem to require no real processing at all.

It is inevitable that computers will one day exceed the processing power of the human brain, but I do not see any evidence that that has already transpired.
Although, when it does, we will no longer be the dominant species on the planet. We will have created something greater than ourselves and may well find that we have brought about our own demise.



Stone_03 The characters used in this illustration are purely fictional.
Any similarity to actual people or events,
either past or present, is purely
coincidental and  unintentional.