Science

Wonder why we don't crash like computers? Yale explains

Wonder why we don't crash like...
The control network of bacterium E Coli, left, and the Linux operating system, right
The control network of bacterium E Coli, left, and the Linux operating system, right
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The control network of bacterium E Coli, left, and the Linux operating system, right
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The control network of bacterium E Coli, left, and the Linux operating system, right

Whether right or for wrong, the human brain is often compared to a computer, and vice-versa. They both receive data, process it, store it, and output new data. Unlike computers, however, the human brain doesn’t crash. Yes, people have nervous breakdowns, but that has more to do with psychological stress than with data management. Now, researchers from Yale University have figured out why our brains succeed where computers fail.

The research team compared the genome of E coli bacteria with the Linux operating system. Both of the control networks, it turns out, are arranged in hierarchies. In E coli, the molecular networks are arranged in a pyramid. A limited number of master regulatory genes sit at the top, controlling a wide range of specialized functions beneath them.

By contrast, Linux is more like an inverted pyramid - numerous routines are at the top, controlling a few generic functions at the bottom. This is because software engineers save time and money by building on existing routines, instead of starting systems from scratch. Such an approach makes the system vulnerable to breakdowns, however, as even simple changes to a generic routine can be very disruptive. To minimize problems, the generic components need to be continually fine-tuned by software designers.

The Yale scientists noted that in a living organism, generic components that need to be constantly updated would not be a good survival trait. Instead, over billions of years of evolution, the E coli bacteria has evolved many highly specialized modules. Together, these modules are ready to handle most eventualities, resulting in a much more robust network.

Whether right or for wrong, the human brain is often compared to a computer, and vice-versa. They both receive data, process it, store it, and output new data. Unlike computers, however, the human brain doesn’t crash. Yes, people have nervous breakdowns, but that has more to do with psychological stress than with data management. Now, researchers from Yale University have figured out why our brains succeed where computers fail.

The research team compared the genome of E coli bacteria with the Linux operating system. Both of the control networks, it turns out, are arranged in hierarchies. In E coli, the molecular networks are arranged in a pyramid. A limited number of master regulatory genes sit at the top, controlling a wide range of specialized functions beneath them.

By contrast, Linux is more like an inverted pyramid - numerous routines are at the top, controlling a few generic functions at the bottom. This is because software engineers save time and money by building on existing routines, instead of starting systems from scratch. Such an approach makes the system vulnerable to breakdowns, however, as even simple changes to a generic routine can be very disruptive. To minimize problems, the generic components need to be continually fine-tuned by software designers.

The Yale scientists noted that in a living organism, generic components that need to be constantly updated would not be a good survival trait. Instead, over billions of years of evolution, the E coli bacteria has evolved many highly specialized modules. Together, these modules are ready to handle most eventualities, resulting in a much more robust network.

22 comments
Andi Meyer
My educated guess: Once Linux (or Microsoft) evolved over billions of years, there will be no more computer breakdowns.
Ted Cushman
Cool. I couldn\'t get to the end of this though. Look, a rabbit!
HenryFarkas
Strange article. It purports to tell us why our brains don\'t crash, but instead, describes how the genome of a germ is different from Linux. I wonder if the first paragraph got written by a different person, who didn\'t see what the rest of the article was about.
Anyway, for your interested information, brains do crash. They crash when they have an epileptic seizure. Not everyone gets seizures, but anyone can get a seizure. It\'s just that some brains have a higher seizure threshold than others.
Brains also crash when they have a psychotic break. This isn\'t about psychological stress, it\'s about information processing, and some brains have a lower threshold for crashing due to information overload than others. That\'s why we have antipsychotic medications. They stabilize the brain. There are lots of people who are on anti-seizure meds to prevent psychotic breaks.
Finally, all of our brains crash when we\'ve been awake too long. We get sleepier and sleepier until we finally fall asleep and our brains get the opportunity to go into a reset cycle.
Henry
HeyThisIsntJizzMag!
I find it seriously funny that the linux computer model is compared to a bacteria associated with fecal matter but then again I am a Macintosh user so I knew Microsoft systems were crap years and years ago.
Santiago Hirsbrunner
I\'m sure Moore\'s law factors in there somewhere too so...probably by the end of the month :)
Esteban Remecz
Hmm..
some innocent bystander opinion (yet a CIO ;-))
Brains are Brains and Bacteria are Bacteria... although I cannot derive the straight rule of 3 where if Bacteria behave in the proposed form we do also and therefore as it is deducted we opposite to computers, do not crash.
To this I need to say that Programming has long since introduced object oriented programming that in a way mimics what is mentioned about bacteria, unfortunately PC\'s unlike brains host applications developed by countless developers with countless variables which set the priority to the scope of the program and very often with embeded floors and faults which then tend to be corrected with releases same as we do with experience.
Crashes are in any case common in both, brains and Systems (which after all also brains are) the difference is the consequences and the fact that brains are mostely uniquely wired and thus uniquely triggered to crash opposite to systems that in worse case scenarios can be restored or reset....
Still waiting to see how the code and perhaps even more the programs will look like for Organic Computing Systems... will we then learn more about brains, computing... or both?
Danny Darden
Thanks for half a page of run-on sentences, Esteban.
Esteban Remecz
hmm.. right, welcome ;-)
idp
It\'s surprising that with so much \"intelligence\" required to get to that scientific level of study, that such foolishness is applied when addressing the origins of life. I would love for these people to prove that the ecoli bacteria evolved over billions of years. Instead they just accept some myth of evolution to base their fundamentals of study on!
Mitchel Eisenstein
Knowing this information, computer programs can now design contingencies that are covering all options which creates a big broad base. Given the power of computers to crunch numbers, the contingencies can be non specific and unsophisticated initially as long as they are comprehensive. Thus a broad base can be created to emulate biological software. This research is more groundbreaking than the other comments indicate. The millions of years of evolution needed by e coli can eventually be replicated in an hour with the right amount of computing power and the right programs. This is going to result in exponential growth of computer intelligence at an astonishing rate.