Computation in the human cerebral cortex uses less than 0.2 watts yet this great expense is optimal when considering communication costs

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
William B Levy, V. G. Calvert

Abstract

Darwinian evolution tends to produce energy-efficient outcomes. On the other hand, energy limits computation, be it neural and probabilistic or digital and logical. After establishing an energy-efficient viewpoint, we define computation and construct an energy-constrained, computational function that can be optimized. This function implies a specific distinction between ATP-consuming processes, especially computation per se vs action potentials and other costs of communication. As a result, the partitioning of ATP-consumption here differs from earlier work. A bits/J optimization of computation requires an energy audit of the human brain. Instead of using the oft-quoted 20 watts of glucose available to the brain, the partitioning and audit reveals that cortical computation consumes 0.2 watts of ATP while long-distance communication costs are over 20-fold greater. The bits/joule computational optimization implies a transient information rate of more than 7 bits/sec/neuron.

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