Link made between computer chips and brains

Scientists have worked out that there are striking similarities between the human brain, the nervous system of a worm, and a computer chip.

According to the journal PloS Computational Biology, which we get for the Spot the Neuron competition, the team have found that while brains are often compared to computers, but it has been unclear whether this is more than just a metaphor used by BBC tech hacks.

Danielle Bassett, who lead an international team of boffins, said it appears that the organisational principles that underlie the network of the human brain and high performance computer circuits, have more than the BBC in common.

Computers, brains and a strain of earthworm have a structure which is like a Russian doll-like architecture.  The same patterns repeating over and over again at different scales.

All use Rent’s Scaling, a rule used to describe the relationship between the number of elements in a given area and the number of links between them.

Each of these systems contains a pattern of connections that are locked solidly in a physical space. A computer chip starts out as an abstract connectivity pattern, which can perform a specific function. The next stage involves mapping that connectivity pattern onto the two-dimensional surface of the chip. This mapping must be done carefully to minimise the total length of wires, which jacks up cost of manufacturing a chip.

According to the paper, brains also have a precise connectivity which allows the organism to function.  They seem to have a Moores Law which applies to them.  Brains are constrained by the metabolic costs associated with the development and maintenance of long ‘wires,’ or neurons”, said Bassett.

Brains and chips have developed the same solutions to optimal mapping patterns.

Market-driven human invention and natural selection have negotiated trade-offs between cost and complexity in designing both types of information processing network.  Both brains and computer circuits have come up with the same ideas.