Thought Leadership

Two heads are better than one

By Colin Walls

Sometimes I have an idea, or gain an understanding or insight into something, and I have to share. That is where I am today.

I always marvel at the complexity of biological systems – how everything fits together to make elegant, efficient, self-maintaining machines. I sometimes have to catch myself, when I have the thought: “That is a cool design.” I did that recently when looking at the semi-circular canals in our ears that give us a sense of balance. Of course, design does not come into it. These amazing systems are the result of evolution by natural selection, which is such an astounding process that I do not need to invent a “designer” to explain matters.

I guess the pinnacle of evolutionary development is the human brain …

The brain is a computer; in many ways it is similar to the machines that we use every day. The evolution of the brain is certainly analogous to that of the computer. Over millions of years, brains have evolved from just a few cells to the billion or so inside your head. Compare this with computers which have gone from hundreds of transistors to hundreds of thousands to the billion or so in a modern PC’s CPU.

So, how is the brain going to evolve? We can look at how computers are moving forward. Although processors are getting bigger, more complex and more powerful, the big movement is towards multi-processing. It is already very common for desktop computers to sport a quad-core CPU; modern supercomputers use vast arrays of processors to perform massively parallel processing tasks.

The human brain can already perform multiple actions simultaneously – I am not going to discuss the possibility that one sex may be better than the other at multi-tasking! On a larger scale, the brain has two, semi-autonomous hemispheres. Long ago, I wrote about how the brain solves problems. But where next?

Let’s try a thought experiment. Put a person in a room alone and ask them a dozen questions which have basic, factual answers. Do this twice – once in 1963 and again in 2013. How would the results compare? You might think that there would be little to choose between them, but, if you took no particular precautions, the 21st Century man would always win. His smart phone or tablet would give him immediate, efficient access to the world’s knowledge, so how could he lose?

IMHO, this is the answer. The next step in human brain evolution is the Internet. Many of us already take it for granted that any information we need will be at our fingertips. This has become easier over the last few years, as tablets and smart phones have made access so convenient and immediate. This is great, but you ain’t seen nothing yet!

There has been much talk about Google Glass lately and the idea of “wearable computing” seems to have arrived. The possibility that a device can use access to the Internet to simply augment our ordinary experiences is the stuff of science fiction, but that possibility is being realized [almost]. I have only seen one person wearing Google Glass so far – I have to say that he did look rather distrait …

The next logical step is a more direct connection from our brains to the Internet, cutting out the inefficiencies of typing, talking, reading etc. I visualize a world where you would only have to think “What was the population of Hong Kong in 1929?” or “What is the next train due at this station?” and you would instantly know the answer. I am not sure whether this is scary or exciting, but I have a feeling that it is inevitable.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at