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After DigitalComputation as Done by Brains and Machines$
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James A. Anderson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199357789

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2018

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199357789.001.0001

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An Engineer’s Introduction to Neuroscience

An Engineer’s Introduction to Neuroscience

Chapter:
(p.75) Chapter 6 An Engineer’s Introduction to Neuroscience
Source:
After Digital
Author(s):

James A. Anderson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199357789.003.0006

When building something, it is essential to know the hardware. This chapter contains key things to know about the active components of the brain: nerve cells (aka neurons). Neurons have severe performance limitations. Problems include high energy consumption, mechanical and physiological sensitivity, unreliability, limited connectivity, and difficulty in wiring neurons together. Neurons are at least a million times slower to “compute” than a modern electronic device. This slow speed cannot be avoided because the neuron has to deal with high electrical capacity and resistance and slow conduction times to move information from neuron to neuron. A specialization called the action potential serves as a long-distance communications mechanism. However, the neuron also has major virtues including the ability to integrate, communicate, and process information from multiple sources, and it acts like a tiny electrochemical analog computer.

Keywords:   neurons, nerve cells, Ramon y Cajal, cell membrane, spikes, action potentials, synapses, cable equation

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