Nice to have a brain

classroom with people at general assembly singapore
In class at General Assembly Singapore

With the advent of affordable personal computers came a defeatist belief that “we can never beat the machines” in terms of memory and processing power. A computer’s ability to download information into its “brain” is stupendous compared to a human’s, limited by the number of transistors its motherboard contains, which has expanded exponentially for decades and only starting to plateau as scientists recently stopped being able to squeeze more transistors on the same-sized chip.

By comparison our brains look primitive. The speed at which I’m downloading information from my instructor’s speech and GitHub exercises is thousands, if not millions of times slower than the Macbook I’m typing on right now. Atom—the code editor that I’m using to write programmes—remembers all the available methods I can use on a string. Me? I probably remember less than half at this point, and will only ever get slightly further than that. To write a programme I believe I’ll always need to refer to my notes and google.

That said, it’s nice to have a brain and the memory that comes with it. When I do something for the first time, I am effectively depositing something—an etching inside the walls of my skull—in there that should be accessible information within a few days after my first encounter.

This is profoundly important. Without it I would have to take copious amounts of notes to ‘remember’ every single thing. Of course, I wouldn’t be remembering anything at all, just making notes that remembers them for me. Imagine if that was the way our brain worked – able to understand concepts but never able to store things to our memory. We would be much further back in the timeline of evolution because we’d be busy referring all the time.

Repeated access of a piece of information, neuroscientists say, will establish new neural pathways. When that happens it becomes easier, and easier, and easier… to recall something. By then, you become what society calls, an expert, a guru, a “god”.

Becoming a “god” in an industry (or more modestly, becoming remarkably effective), then, is only a lot of practice away.

What I always forgot when I pitted my brain against a computer’s is this: my brain is a million times better than a computer’s at comprehension. The choke point for us as a species is data, not concepts.

So choose which datastream you jump into wisely, because time limits us, but trust that while the download speed will be slow, your rendering speed and complexity will be phenomenal by computers’ standards.

Even though Chrome has debugging tools, it never actually debugs code for you – it relies on the programmer for that.