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Analog Is More Important Than Digital: Scientific Proof

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Terry.Bollinger
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The synergy of digital and analog
Terry.Bollinger   8/28/2015 2:17:35 PM
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I would suggest that the natural world is telling us powerfully that both digital and analog are needed to obtain optimal use of information about the world at large... and that at present, we've gone too heavy on digital for certain areas.

Here's one a rough heuristic for assessing the situation: Digital works best, both in biology and in computers, for preserving information, while analog (currently almost solely in biology) is hugely more efficient for fast, energy-efficient processing of huge quantities of data about an incompletely know outside world.

There's no better example of how important digital to preserving information in biology than DNA, which is about as binary (or quaternary) as it gets. But also, that part about how neurons fire discretely also shows preservation of information during the transmission process, since pure analog signals would be unreadable after traveling even a short distance across mushy, chemically-mediated neural circuits. Pulse coding works far better!

Conversely, a tiny fairly gnat with nothing but microwatts of brain power to work with can hunt prey better than drones using millions of times more power. But how? Well, at least in part by making very clever use of hierarchies of simple analog heuristics with lots of real-time feedback. No one of them is very accurate, but when combined in ways that allow certainty to accumulate and focus in on emerging "points of interest," the result is a very efficient way of processing a lot of information at an almost vanishingly small energy cost.

We need more of that, and the source of the lessons is going to be the now-burgeoning field of neurobiology and neural cognition.

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