Comparing Human Memory to the Working of a Computer


For a long time, human mental ability has remained unparalleled in the world. People exhibit multifaceted thought processes that cannot be compared to any other living organism. Indeed, the only available competitor to human intellectual capability is an invention called the computer. Since the inception of computers, humans have found themselves being surrounded by machines that carry out tasks that were initially theirs. Today, computers have been integrated into almost every sector of man-kind activities like banking, hospitals, businesses, transport, and schools. The machine learning and artificial intelligence of computers create new breakthroughs that improve with time (Johnson, 2016). Some people argue that the human brain works like a computer, while others think that computers are too advanced to be compared with the human brain. This paper demonstrates that despite computers performing complex tasks, the working of the human brain is better than that of a computer’s memory. It shows how the sensory, short, and long memory applies in this comparison and the key factors and theories of forgetting in both humans and computers.

Comparison between the Human Brain and the Computer Memory

Storage Capacity

Both the computer and the human brain have the capacity to store information. The human brain comprises cells called neurons while computer memory consists of circuits or chips. Both the memory chips on a computer and the human brain store information which makes them operate. For a single wire in a memory chip, millions of neutrons exist to carry pulses in the brain. Computer memory is measured in megabytes but human memory is estimated to be 2.5 million gigabytes (Nishihara et al., 2016). Although computers are fast at accessing and retrieving stored information, the human brain’s storage capacity is billions of times larger than that of a computer.

Information Retrieval Process

To utilize the stored information, both human beings and computers use different ways to access it. The human memory is content addressable, which means that the stored information is related to one another. However, the computer memory is byte-addressable, which means that instructions are connected to specific files on the computer (Nishihara et al., 2016). The stored information on computers is more consistent and can only be retrieved when a command is given, but the human brain network of neurons recalls diverse and more random information depending on the situation. Content addressable memory in people enables them to retrieve information, and at the same time, access its related information. A computer cannot deviate from its programming, and therefore, the working of the human brain is superior to that of a computer.

Thought Versus Memory Processing Ability

There are some tasks that human memory performs better than the computer. Human beings are good at pattern recognition, creative thinking, and language abilities. A person is able to recognize subtle details that a computer cannot (Nishihara et al., 2016). Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being conducted to improve the computer’s limitations when it comes to pattern of recognition, creative thinking, and language abilities. The thought process of a human brain is dynamic which means it can retrieve specific and related information simultaneously. However, a computer’s memory is static which means it can only follow its programs to retrieve a particular file. The dynamic nature of the brain enables it to perform better than a computer in some tasks.

Sensory, Short, and Long Team Memories

The sensory memory compares to the computer Random Access Memory (RAM) because they are both short-term memories. Sensory memory is temporary and it registers information about a person’s environment. It allows people to retain impressions of sensory information after the stimulus has stopped. Its main purpose is to retain information long enough for it to be recognized. There are three types of sensory memory, iconic or visual, Echoic or auditory, and Haptic or tactile (Johnson, 2016). A computer has short and long-term memory and its non-permanent memory is known as RAM. When a computer is on, its running programs are loaded on RAM. However, when the computer is switched off, this information is deleted. Thus, sensory memory temporarily stores information in the brain, while RAM briefly stores the running programs on a computer. They are both short-term memories because the information stored in them is volatile.

Information is only useful if it can be permanently stored and retrieved whenever needed. This is achieved by using long-term memory which stores a considerable amount of information on the computer and the brain. The data on a computer’s hard drive is permanent and does not change with time. However, information on the long-term memory of the brain changes over the years. According to Johnson (2016), both the brain and the hard drive provide every piece of information with a specific storage location. Long-term memory, therefore, exists in the human brain and the computer.

Key Factors and Theories of Forgetting

Human beings and computers tend to forget information that is stored in short-term memory. The RAM stores programs and data that are being utilized by a running computer. Once the computer is switched off, the information gets deleted. People also tend to forget important information such as where they left their keys, the names of other people, and even how to solve mathematics problems. It is so because they are unable to retrieve information from the brain. Another key factor that causes people to forget is time. If the information in the brain has not been used for a long time, people tend to forget it (“Psychology differentiates the power of the human brain and a computer,” 2019). Thus, the factors that make human beings forget are different from the ones of a computer.

There are theories that relate to forgetting which include retrieval failure, ineffective encoding, interference, decay or fading, motivated forgetting, and physical injury or trauma (Luo, 2018). In the retrieval theory, memory is forgotten simply because it cannot be retrieved since it was never stored. The ineffective encoding theory explains why forgetfulness has occurred as a result of poor encoding of stored information. Interference happens when confusion takes place in the long term memory and the right information is not retrieved. The decay theory explains why information disappears when it has not been used for a long time. Physical injury or trauma theory explains why one forgets information that occurred prior or after a traumatic event (Luo, 2018). The decay theory is the most common theory of forgetfulness in people.


Although computers are extremely fast, the working of the human brain is superior when compared to computer memory. They both store information that they use to perform their tasks, but the human brain capacity is larger than that of a computer. The brain has short-term memory known as sensory, while the computer utilizes RAM. In addition, both the human brain and computer have long-term memory where permanent information is stored. When it comes to forgetfulness, distinct factors affect the brain and computer memory. The information on the brain fades with time but the one on the computer remains the same over the years.


Johnson, N. (2016). The human brain vs. computers: The identity challenge. TCDI.

Luo, L. (2018). Why is the human brain so efficient? Nautilus.

Nishihara, K., Taya, N., & Kanoh, T. (2016). A consideration of realizing the brain inspired computer. Proceedings of the 9th EAI International Conference on Bio-inspired Information and Communications Technologies (formerly BIONETICS).

Psychology differentiates the power of human brain and a computer. (2019). Human Behavior Remodelling – Technologies that affect Human Behavior. Web.

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