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Business @ the Speed of Thought

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Bill Gates may have a brain the size of Washington State, but that doesn't mean he is particularly quick on his feet when it comes to dishing out business advice.

Last year, the Microsoft chairman distilled some of his thoughts on technology and commerce in a book, Business @ the Speed of Thought.

But how fast does thought actually run? At last we have the answer, courtesy of some British boffins who have caught the process on film, and it's not exactly Speedy Gonzales - thought has a molecular engine which runs at the stately pace of two millimetres an hour.

The engine, a protein called Myocin V, sounds pretty funky. It whirrs inside your brain to enable you to think, and it transports the messenger chemicals that underpin the process of thought by using "two legs with which it 'walks' along fibres made of the protein actin, which act like rails within nerves," the Sunday Telegraph's Roger Highfield reports.

"At first sight," he comments, "it is a wonder that humans are quickwitted at all." And that goes for business executives with the brain of Washington State too.

So what was billg or his ghost writer thinking of when they were thinking of thought? Perhaps their quick-thinking business metaphor drew for inspiration upon the massive parallelism capability of the brain. Unfortunately, this also runs into the sand - human neural circuitry is very slow, as this extract from Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil reveals.

"The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. With an estimated average of one thousand connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have about 100 trilion connections between each neuron and its neighbors, we have about 100 trillion connections, each capable of a simultaneous calculation. That's rather massive parallel processing, and one key to the strength of human thinking. A profound weakness, however, is the excruciatingly slow speed of neural circuitry, only 200 calculations per second. For problems that benefit from massive parallelism, such as neural-net base pattern recognition, the human brain does a great job. For problems that require sequential thinking, the human brain is only mediocre."

Kurzweil is a very successful inventor/entrepreneur with a brain the size of Massachusetts. I can recommend his book wholeheartedly, as a fine example of massive parallelism at work. ®

See also

Neuro boffins mimic brain action
WAP revives ex-Guinness chairman's braincells

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