Information storage in the brain

The brain probably stores around 10-100TB of data.

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According to Forrest Wickman, computational neuroscientists generally believe the brain stores 10-100 terabytes of data.1 He suggests that these estimates are produced by assuming that information is largely stored in synapses, and that each synapse stores around 1 byte. The number of bytes is then simply the number of synapses.

These assumptions are simplistic (as he points out). In particular:

  • synapses may store more or less than one byte of information on average
  • some information may be stored outside of synapses
  • not all synapses appear to store information
  • synapses do not appear to be entirely independent

We estimate that there are 1.8-3.2 x 10¹⁴ synapses in the human brain, so according to the procedure Wickman outlines, this suggests that the brain stores around 180-320TB of data. It is unclear from his article whether the variation in the views of computational neuroscientists is due to different opinions on the assumptions stated above, or on the number of synapses in the brain. This makes it hard to adjust our estimate well, so our best guess for now is that the brain can store around 10-100TB of data, based on this being the common view among computational neuroscientists.


 

  1. “…Most computational neuroscientists tend to estimate human storage capacity somewhere between 10 terabytes and 100 terabytes, though the full spectrum of guesses ranges from 1 terabyte to 2.5 petabytes. (One terabyte is equal to about 1,000 gigabytes or about 1 million megabytes; a petabyte is about 1,000 terabytes.)

    The math behind these estimates is fairly simple. The human brain contains roughly 100 billion neurons. Each of these neurons seems capable of making around 1,000 connections, representing about 1,000 potential synapses, which largely do the work of data storage. Multiply each of these 100 billion neurons by the approximately 1,000 connections it can make, and you get 100 trillion data points, or about 100 terabytes of information.

    Neuroscientists are quick to admit that these calculations are very simplistic. First, this math assumes that each synapse stores about 1 byte of information, but this estimate may be too high or too low…”

    – Wickman 2012

1 Comment

  1. this becomes less etcixing as we move to a decentralized/online storage model.Right, except that we’re not. People are creating their own multimedia content, being sold bloatier operating systems and applications, downloading High-Definition movies, and playing games. There is more being stored on the average user’s drive than ever before, and any online storage market growth is: 1) still too insignificant to make a dent in traditional storage needs,2) still requiring the use of storage somewhere to hold that data, requiring someone to buy that hard drive,3) unrealistic with current and near-future broadband speeds especially in Canada.Distributed storage is growing, but generally within a household or office space among several computers, serves, game consoles, media centers, etc all devices which use (and demand) bigger and faster storage.The announcement isn’t etcixing for other reasons though, namely that a for a couple hundred bucks.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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