Academic journal article The Science Teacher

How Your Brain Is like the Internet

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

How Your Brain Is like the Internet

Article excerpt

Although nowadays we spend a lot of time online, few of us understand the mathematical algorithms that manage how our content is delivered. But deciding how to deliver that content was a priority for the internet's founders. Now, researchers report that an algorithm used for the internet also works in the human brain.

"The founders of the internet spent a lot of time considering how to make information flow efficiently," says researcher Saket Navlakha. "Finding that an engineered system and an evolved biological one arise at a similar solution to a problem is really interesting."

In the engineered system, the solution involves controlling information flow so that routes are neither clogged nor underused. To this end, the internet uses an algorithm called "additive increase, multiplicative decrease" (AIMD) in which your computer sends a packet of data and then listens for an acknowledgement from the receiver: If the packet is promptly acknowledged, the network is not overloaded and your data can be transmitted through the network at a higher rate. With each successive successful packet, your computer knows it's safe to increase its speed by one unit, which is the additive increase part.

But if an acknowledgment is delayed or lost, your computer knows there is congestion and slows down, which is the multiplicative decrease part. In this way, users gradually find their "sweet spot," and congestion is avoided because users take their foot off the gas, so to speak, as soon as they notice a slowdown. As computers throughout the network use this strategy, the whole system can continuously adjust to changing conditions, maximizing overall efficiency. …

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