Brains That Work Smarter, Not Harder

from the how-it-all-works dept

More data isn't always a good thing. As has been pointed out plenty of times, efforts for things like data retention often have the opposite of the intended effect (catching criminals) because it hides the good data with all the bad data. Is it any surprise that our brains feel the same way? Clive Thompson is talking about some research that took people by surprise, noting that smarter people tend to be better at ignoring useless data, rather than storing more data. Traditionally, it's been assumed that the brain is sort of like a big hard drive -- and people who can remember more tend to be smarter. However, this research suggests that it's not the ability to remember more, but to remember the right things. In some ways this isn't that surprising. After all, intelligence often seems to come from the ability to do better pattern matching than others -- and having the right data, rather than too much data can often help make those patterns clearer. It would be interesting to see what sort of impact this would have on artificial intelligence research. Many AI projects seem to have worked on the basis of cramming the system with more and more and more data in the hopes that some sort of intelligence would eventually emerge. Perhaps the focus should be more on teaching it how to ignore data.
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  1. identicon
    Brent, 29 Nov 2005 @ 9:47pm

    Ignoring an important part of perception

    There's a considerable amount of research in cognitive science on the importance of being able to inhibit/ignore/suppress uninteresting perceptual information. The ability to listen to one talker out of a crowd of talkers is not a process of listening to everything and parsing, but being able to ignore/inhibit talkers that you do not want to listen to.
    As we grow older, this ability deteriorates. Difficulty understanding your companion at a noisy restaurant is as much a matter of not being able to ignore/suppress everyone else in the retaurant as it is a result of possible hearing loss (in fact, impaired perception may impair cognitive function).

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