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4. Hearing and Language: Hacks 44–52 > 52. Robust Processing Using Parallelism

Robust Processing Using Parallelism

Neural networks process in parallel rather than serially. This means that as processing of different aspects proceeds, previously processed aspects can be used quickly to disambiguate the processing of others.

Neural networks are massively parallel computers. Compare this to your PC, which is a serial computer. Yeah, sure, it can emulate a parallel processor, but only because it is really quick. However quick it does things, though, it does them only one at a time.

Neural processing is glacial by comparison. A neuron in the visual cortex is unlikely to fire more than every 5 milliseconds even at its maximum activation. Auditory cells have higher firing rates, but even they have an absolute minimum gap of 2 ms between sending signals. This means that for actions that take 0.5 to 1 second—such as noticing a ball coming toward you and catching it (and many of the things cognitive psychologists test)—there are a maximum of 100 consecutive computations the brain can do in this time. This is the so-called 100 step rule. 1


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