BrainChains

What is your most important tool to be successful as a professional? Your brain!
What do you know about your thinking brain that's useful for your everyday work? Nothing.
The sad result: you ruin the performance of your magnificent brain, and obstruct the matchless potential of your brain-ICT collaboration (Information and Communication Technologies).Taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of your brain you will also get the best results from your brain-ICT synergy.

In this blog I will mix recent discoveries with useful practical consequences, and ideas from my book "BRAINCHAINS. Discover your brain and unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected multitasking world".
More information about my book at: www.brainchains.info

Friday, August 22, 2014

The cages in most zoo's are better for animals than most offices for people

"Because most ZOO-directors and staff know more about the inborn needs of their animals than most company-directors about the innate needs of people, the cages in most zoo's are better for animals than most offices for people."
If you think this is too cynical, read the free (and copyright free) booklet I wrote about this issue at www.brainchains.info. It's a summary about the scientific research about the issue.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Your body-brain surpasses the internet of things.


Even if the Internet of Things one day links a hundred trillion objects it is still very primitive compared to a single human brain.
To make matters even more fascinating, the brain communicates in both directions with every single one of the 50-100 trillion cells in the body. This body-brain is busy with the maintenance of our bodies, adjusting to constant changes in its environment. It does this totally autonomously, on automatic pilot. We don’t have to think about things like keeping our heart beating, our blood circulating, our gut digesting or our kidneys filtering. Our body-brain takes care of this without us being at all aware.
It performs all these tens of thousands of tasks at the same time with what IT specialists might see as the ultra-sophisticated distributed computing I mentioned above. This means that every single cell is like a little computer that influences and is influenced by trillions of other computers.
Together they process billions of routines in parallel, they lead each other and they decide together in a complex network that works at astonishing speed. The branches of this brain-system run through the whole body. They direct the working and the multiplication of all the cells; they even influence the genes in our cells. On the other hand, the cells in our body also give feedback to the body-brain so that it can adapt and adjust efficiently and at a high speed. All this activity is synchronized by the biological clock that, if you want, I can discuss in more detail later on.
This functions somewhat like a super-sophisticated Internet of Things. From what I explained about the brain, however, you certainly realize that this sophisticated combination of 160 billion brain-cells interacting with 100 trillion body-cells is far superior to the much touted Internet of Things.
Next time I will explain the three brains that help us to think, to make decisions, to act and to plan.

Prof Dr Theo Compernolle's most recent book is "BRAINCHAINS. Discover your brain and unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected multitasking world".
Available at Amazon.com or a bookstore near you. More info at www.BrainChains.org

Friday, June 20, 2014

The brain: an ever changing network of networks of networks

This gigantic network of  80 billion neurons having between 1000 and 400,000 connections each, functions without a central decision maker. The information is not located in the cells but in the connections.  All brain cells are active and work together at the same time. Together they carry out tens of thousands of tasks simultaneously, without any central control and without us being aware of this. This gigantic network of networks of networks has no central decision maker. The most important central organ is a clock, our biological clock that synchronizes these trillions of interactions. It is a most beautiful example of what IT specialists call distributed computing, with a sophistication that is way beyond anything we can achieve with the most modern computers and computer networks, even the world wide ones.

Another superior feature of our brain is that it is amazingly fault tolerant. We can lose many cells through natural ageing or by accident, without impairing the whole system. This is possible because the brain continuously programs and reprograms itself, it wires and rewires itself, and it can change itself and heal itself, especially while we sleep. This is done all the time for individual cells or groups of cells and connections, but even big parts of the brain can take over the function of completely different parts. This way the normal losing of neurons with aging has no negative consequences. Such an amazing fault tolerance is still a faraway dream for computers, where one faulty transistor can wreck a computer chip[1].

Prof Dr Theo Compernolle's most recent book is "BRAINCHAINS. Discover your brain and unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected multitasking world".
Available at Amazon.com or a bookstore near you. More info at www.BrainChains.org




[1] Machine, heal thyself, Build yourself a brain, Paul Marks,New Scientist. February 16, 2013

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Don’t believe the ignorant stories about computers rivalling your brain.

Your 1,5 kg brain consumes 30 watt. A computer model: 40,000 ton consuming 4 Gigawatt
You certainly heard stories about computers 80 billion neurons plus 80 billion glia, brings the total number of brain cells that help us to process data to about ± 160 billion, or 160,000 million. This is 48 times more than the number of people on earth connected to the Internet in 2012. It is half the number of all the stars in the Milky Way.
The neurons that play the lead role are linked with 1,000 to 400,000 other neurons. This gives us more than 8 quadrillion ever changing connections if we take an average of 100.000 connections. At the tip of each connection we have a kind of chemical transistors (vesicles) that make a connection when the current in the cell reaches a particular threshold. If we take an average of 50 active ones, this means that we have 400 quadrillion transistors in our brain.  Are you still with me?

If one of you is a mathematician, I’d love you to compute how many possible combinations and permutations are possible with 8 quadrillion connections. I am totally lost in these astronomical numbers.

The human brain is so mind-boggling in fact that even for a human brain it is, for the time being, impossible to fully understand it. spiNNaker is one of the most sophisticated brain simulators. It’s unbelievable yet true: The inventors of a computer that primitively mimics 1% of the brain are proud that their custom-built chips use only 1 Watt each, and that the computer, when finished, will consume only 50,000 Watt and weigh only 900 pounds[1]. Hence a computer that very primitively mimics the working of a human brain would be the size of a big plane hangar, weigh a massive 40,000 tons and consume roughly all the megawatts of 4 nuclear power plants. And yet you carry more than that amount of computing power around in your skull as only 3 pounds of wetware consuming a mere 30 Watt!
Do you agree now that the human brain is utterly amazing, totally unique and still far superior to the fantastic Information and Communication Technology we built?

Prof Dr Theo Compernolle's most recent book is "BRAINCHAINS. Discover your brain and unleash its full potential in a hyperconnected multitasking world".
Available at Amazon.com or a bookstore near you. More info at www.BrainChains.org




[1] SpiNNaker: A 1-W 18-Core System-on-Chip for Massively-Parallel Neural Network Simulation. S.B.  Painkras, E.; Plana, L.A.; Garside, J.; Temple, S.; Galluppi, F.; Patterson, C.; Lester, D.R.; Brown, A.D.; Furber,  Solid-State Circuits, IEEE Journal of, Issue Date: Aug. 2013, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/icp.jsp?arnumber=6515159
Power analysis of large-scale, real-time neural networks on SpiNNaker. Evangelos Stromatias, Francesco Galluppi, Cameron Patterson and Steve Furber. 2013. neuromorphs.net . https://www.neuromorphs.net/nm/raw-attachment/wiki/2013/uns13/Power_analysis_of_large_scale_real_time_neural_networks_on_SpiNNaker.pdf
Improving the Interconnection Network of a Brain Simulator. Jonathan Heathcote. 2013 http://jhnet.co.uk/misc/phdFirstYearReport.pdf
SpiNNaker: A 1-W 18-Core System-on-Chip for Massively-Parallel Neural Network Simulation. Painkras, E.; Plana, L.A.; Garside, J.; Temple, S.; Galluppi, F.; Patterson, C.; Lester, D.R.; Brown, A.D.; Furber, S.B. Solid-State Circuits, IEEE Journal of, Issue Date: Aug. 2013

The brain: an ever changing network of networks of networks

The 80 billion neurons have between 1000 and 400,000 connections. The information is not located in the cells but in the connections.  All brain cells are active and work together at the same time. Together they carry out tens of thousands of tasks simultaneously, without any central control and without us being aware of this. This gigantic network of networks of networks has no central decision maker. The most important central organ is a clock, our biological clock that synchronizes these trillions of interactions. It is a most beautiful example of what IT specialists call distributed computing, with a sophistication that is way beyond anything we can achieve with the most modern computers and computer networks, even the world wide ones.

Another superior feature of our brain is that it is amazingly fault tolerant. We can lose many cells through natural ageing or by accident, without impairing the whole system. This is possible because the brain continuously programs and reprograms itself, it wires and rewires itself, and it can change itself and heal itself, especially while we sleep. This is done all the time for individual cells or groups of cells and connections, but even big parts of the brain can take over the function of completely different parts. This way the normal losing of neurons with aging has no negative consequences. Such an amazing fault tolerance is still a faraway dream for computers, where one faulty transistor can wreck a computer chip[1].



[1] Machine, heal thyself, Build yourself a brain, Paul Marks,New Scientist. February 16, 2013

Your brain: a network of more than 100 billion cells

In our brain we have 80 billion (older text books often mention 100 billion) information processing cells: neurons (from the Greek word for string), of some 10,000 different types. Each neuron cell functions like a small computer or microprocessor processing electrical signals. At the same time each cell is also acting as a chemical factory, sending chemical signals to other cells. These chemicals are called neuro-transmitters: they transmit messages from one neuron to another. The cells influence each other and the connections between other cells. An important neuro-transmitter is dopamine, which among other things gives us a feeling of excitement. Others are similar to opium, which among many other things kills pain and gives us a feeling of satisfaction. We will discuss these later to better understand why it is so difficult to disconnect from the Internet and why many people become really addicted to it.
Our brain also has some 80 billion Glia cells. Until recently scientists thought that the Glia cells only provided structural support, metabolic support, insulation and a matrix for development. Since our neurons are not regularly replaced like most other cells in our body, they have to be kept in shape and nurtured caringly by these Glia cells. Now scholars are beginning to discover that these cells also play a role in the information processing of our brain because they influence the connections between the neurons[1]. These Glia cells also control waste management. You can easily imagine how very important this is given that the brain cells produce and release chemicals all the time. Most of this waste management happens during sleep. If there is enough interest in this blog, I am willing to explain this later. Let me know.

In my next blog I will explain the computing power of our brain. Prepare yourself for huge numbers. Maybe you can try a guess: 80 billion neurons, have between 1,000 and 400,000 connections each that fire up to 500 times/second. Do the math to find out how many possible combinations this gives.



[1] Targeting Glia Cells: Novel Perspectives for the Treatment of Neuro-
psychiatric Diseases. B. Di Benedetto and R. Rupprecht; Current Neuropharmacology, 2013, 11, 2

The revolution is about brain-ICT synergy, not competition

The real heart of the ICT revolution is that, together, the power of modern ICT combined with the unique ability of the human brain to reflect can lead to insights and knowledge that separately they never can or ever will realize. The combination of, on the one hand, the digital processing, storing and networking power of modern computers that make massive amounts of data and information easy to retrieve and process and, on the other hand, the unique reflecting power of the human brain that is the only tool that can reflect to generate knowledge and insights and be creative, is unbeatable. The revolution is one of close synergy between ICT and the human brain, where ICT amplifies the strengths and complements the weaknesses of the human brain and vice versa.
By the way, Kasparov himself was very aware of this and experimented with a chess game where the players were allowed to use chess computers. Playchess.com followed up on this idea and in 2005 organized a big tournament, where the company discovered that mid-level chess players who made good use of average chess computers were able to beat the best chess supercomputers as well as teams of grandmasters[1].

Today we have almost as much computing power in our smartphones as the super-computer that beat Kasparov in 1997, and yet we are still only at the beginning of this revolution of collaboration between brains and computers. One of the places where this is particularly evident is the workplace, where during most of their working day professionals do not make the best use of their ICT to increase the performance of their brain; in fact, it’s much worse than that, they use ICT in ways that ruin their intellectual productivity and creativity.
For an optimal synergy between your ICT and your brain, you need to know something about your brain.
In my next blog I will explain a few truly amazing facts about your brain. To put this in context, I will compare your brain’s computing power with a supercomputer that is being built to model a human brain. Ready for a big surprise?



[1] The Chess Master and the Computer. Garry Kasparov. The New York Review of Books. February 11, 2010. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/feb/11/the-chess-master-and-the-computer/

The computer revolution is not what you are told

We are living through an ICT revolution where if you make good use of ICT you can increase your intellectual performance tremendously. If on the other hand you unintentionally use ICT in the wrong way, failing to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the human brain, then instead of increasing the power of your brain, you shackle it in BrainChains. Since you do this unknowingly, I’d like to explain what science knows about how your thinking brain works and how you can unchain your brain.

First of all, let’s be clear about the nature of this ICT revolution: it is certainly not one where supercomputers or a network of computers will replace the human brain. People who make this claim often use the example of the IBM Watson computer winning in Jeopardy or the earlier example of the IBM supercomputer “Deep Blue” beating the world chess champion Garry Kasparov. These kinds of declarations are based on a triple ignorance: ignorance about computers, and above all ignorance about the workings and abilities of the amazing human brain. In this blog I will try to resolve some of the third ignorance, so that you can use this knowledge to realize an optimal synergy between your brain and your ICT instead of using your ICT in ways that ruins your intellectual productivity.

Well-informed IT people do not fall into the trap of the Newsweek article “The Brain’s Last Stand”[1], published shortly before the Deep Blue vs Kasparov match. Quite the contrary: Let me quote Kasparov: "The AI [Artificial Intelligence] crowd [imagined] a computer that thought and played chess like a human, with human creativity and intuition, [but] they got one that played like a machine, systematically evaluating 200 million possible moves on the chess board per second and winning with brute number-crunching force.”

Next: what the brain-computer revolution is really about



[1] The Brain's Last Stand. Stephen Levvy. May 1997, Newsweek. http://www.academicchess.org/Focus/DeepBlue/newsbrain.shtml