Physics and Astronomy


Computers and the Human Brain

by Ed Meyer

Computers can perform complicated calculations quickly, much faster than the human brain. In fact, computers are terrific problem solving tools. The development of the computer has drastically increased the ability of humans to solve problems.

However, it must be remembered that the computer is simply a tool in the arsenal of the problem-solving human. Computers are not creative, computers are not brilliant and computers will not have a clever idea. Humans, on the other hand can be creative and brilliant and they can have new ideas.

Computers are terrific at storing and retrieving information. Computers are terrific at responding correctly and consistently to a giving stimulus. Computers have great System Ones. However, unlike humans, they have no System Two.

While it is true that a computer can do the work of 100 ordinary people, it is also true that no number of computers can do the work of one extraordinary person. That is, the person with a well-developed System Two.

Because of this, there is very little reason to continually develop the System One of young people throughout their education. The computer has System One covered. In the 21st century, any formal education should focus on the skills that compliment rather than compete with the skills of the computer.

In the past, a business might be interested in hiring someone who is a “walking encyclopedia.” However, today’s employers are not interested in hiring a walking encyclopedia because of the availability of knowledge over the internet. The internet can be thought of as the depository of knowledge of the human race. Today’s employers are not looking for people with vast amounts of knowledge stored in their brain, they are looking for people who can come up with ideas to solve problems – perhaps by using the knowledge on the internet or by using the computer to perform calculations to model the problem.

In his book, “The Road Ahead,” Bill Gates writes “More than ever, an education that emphasizes general problem-solving skills will be important.”

Theoretical physicist Zvi Bern echoes the same sentiment with this comment from his TED talk. “If someone came up to me and said, ‘here is a faster computer.’ I would say, ‘that’s great; I’d really love to have one. I can do my calculations faster.’ But what I’d really like to have, much, more than a faster computer, is a good idea. A good idea can always kick the pants off a supercomputer.”

What we need to nurture in young people is the ability to think hard and to come up with a new idea. That is, their System Two.

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