The context of modern life has now been perceived as technology-driven for a variety of reasons. Indeed, when analyzing all the aspects of human life, it would be reasonable to assume that they either happen due to technological advancements or benefit greatly from the assistance. As a result, the idea of comparing the human mind and technology has become a subject matter for various science-fiction scenarios, fantasy books, and conspiracy theories. For the past years, people have been terrified by the idea that they could be replaced by computers, turning the world into technology-operated chaos. One of the major reasons for such a common belief is the ongoing trend of addressing the fascinating abilities of computers in terms of storing and processing data. Subsequently, such a capability is compared to the abilities of the human brain and its memory. Considering such a state of affairs, one may assume that despite the undeniable progress taking place in the context of technological memory capacity, the juxtaposition of human and computer memory significantly undermines the scopes of human cognitive potential.
Long-term and Short-term Memory
The most common ground for comparison of human and computer memory is the presence of long- and short-term or working memory. To begin with, it is crucial to define the functional pattern of human memory. According to Baddeley (2019), the process of storing information in the human cognitive system begins with an environmental input, which is perceiving external factors and information through such sensory registers as visual, auditory, and haptic. Then, the information is processed in the short-term or working memory, manipulating the information, retrieving response, and relating it to the long-term memory storage. Within the latter, information is stored permanently. According to the researchers, despite the popular belief that the information in long-term memory tends to be either displaced or removed, it just becomes more difficult to access due to a number of cognitive cues (Baddeley, 2019). Indeed, the computer’s body comprises quite similar functions in terms of storage. Like short-term memory for humans, random access memory (RAM) helps computers complete tasks immediately. The hard drive in computers functions similarly to the long-term memory patterns, providing machines with the ability to store information in order to address it in case of necessity.
Considering the information above, one could rightfully claim the resemblance between the systems. However, despite the functional similarity, the notion of human memory is more complicated due to a wide variety of psychological matters that influence one’s patterns of information storage. Thus, besides a commonly established memory typology, there exists a psychological approach to memory variability, including working, episodic, semantic, and collective memory (Biswas-Diener & Diener, 2016). Episodic memory, for instance, addresses one ability to recall the events taking place within a relatively short timeframe, taking into account the aspect of one’s mental state during the perception of those events.
Semantic memory, in its turn, attributes to one’s ability to retrieve the information concerning more-or-less permanent knowledge like the definition of a word. However, one of the most significant aspects of such memory specific to humans is the fact that apart from storing the variety of definitions of the same lexeme, the human mind is able to retrieve the needed word or definition regarding the communicative context. Thus, considering the aforementioned concepts, it may be concluded that the comparison between the human mind and computer storage is irrelevant because these memories exist within completely different paradigms. As a result, while striving to operate as efficiently as computers, people tend to undermine the psychological distress factors that create a major obstacle in terms of filtering information.
When comparing the notions of the machine and human memory, the tendency of forgetting information serves as one of the most commonly introduced benefits of computer memory. Indeed, human memory as a complex cognitive system obtains a series of impediments that deteriorate the quality of information retrieval. These impediments include memory decay, lack of retrieval cues, encoding failures, deliberate information blockage, and interference (Biswas-Diener & Diener, 2016). Thus, it would be reasonable to assume that human memory is somehow flawed when it comes to the proper information access in the long-term perspective. However, before prioritizing machines over human memory, it is of paramount importance to outline that humans are deprived of the ability to filter external cues that should be memorized. In fact, humans tend to subconsciously perceive big scopes of information in order to define later which parts of it should be encoded properly. Computers, in their turn, are programmed by people on the matter of the kind of information that has to be stored in the hard drive, limiting the external impact.
Moreover, when it comes to forgetting information, one should outline that this phenomenon is natural for people and tends to make their perception of life easier. Thus, people are free to deliberately choose the information or triggers that affect their cognitive functioning and erase it by minimizing the retrieval cues. Sometimes, however, the information could be so deeply integrated into one’s mind that even the most desperate attempts to get rid of it result in failure. Computers, on the other hand, do not have the ability to eliminate their memories unless they are programmed to do so. For this reason, random access memory sometimes becomes so full it cannot operate properly and as fast as previously. In this scenario, the comparison of human and computer memory also loses its relevance.
The final argument frequently used when contrasting human, and machine memory is its capacity. There is a common misconception that human memory is limited in terms of capacity and information volume it could possibly store. However, when choosing between computers and humans, it is the former that is limited in storage. Human memory capacity, in its turn, is highly correlated with the amount of information it receives and processes during the day, becoming smaller or bigger, respectively (Cowan, 2008). For example, one of the studies demonstrates that better sleeping patterns account for one’s increased memory capacity, which means that there are various social and physical cues that expand human abilities to memorize information (Phan et al., 2019). Hence, it may be concluded that comparison of human and computer memory undermines the extent to which people should embrace their abilities because they are focused on the limitations instead of training their elastic memory capacity.
The tendency to compare the abilities of human and machine memory has now become a controversial topic due to a number of existing perspectives on the issue. Thus, in terms of the present paper, an attempt was made to define the appropriateness of such a contrast through the examination of the memory typology, forgetting, and capacity. The results of the discussion support the assumption that the process of comparing these two seemingly identical yet extremely different memory kinds undermines people’s acknowledgment of the true capabilities of their brain and memory.
Baddeley, A. (2019). Essentials of human memory (classic edition). Psychology Press.
Biswas-Diener, R., & Diener, E. (Eds.). (2016). Introduction to psychology: The full Noba collection. Noba.
Cowan N. (2008). What are the differences between long-term, short-term, and working memory? Progress in Brain Research, 169, 323–338. Web.
Phan, D. V., Chan, C. L., Pan, R. H., Yang, N. P., Hsu, H. C., Ting, H. W., Lai, K. R., & Lin, K. B. (2019). Investigating the effect of daily sleep on memory capacity in college students. Technology and Health Care, 27(2), 183-194.