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URs Holzlz - G+ Profile Image

At a Memorial Day barbeque over the weekend, I found myself sequestered in a corner of a friend’s yard with a mutually nerdy acquaintance talking about memory – both human and digital. The question was, “How much memory does the human brain possess – in bytes?” We theorized, but neither we, nor anyone else, it seems, has an answer.

While the human brain and its capacity is still largely a mystery, Google engineer Urs Holzle posted an interesting factoid about digital memory from his Google+ account over the weekend:

“59 years ago, in March 1953, the world had a grand total of 53 kilobytes of RAM spread over a dozen or so computers, the largest having 5KB. That’s not enough RAM to store a single icon…

For comparison, today the DRAM market produces around 40 billion billion bits per year. In other words, each second we produce about 25 million times as much memory as the world had in all of 1953.”

Those types of numbers are difficult to digest, but the advancement in memory and computing capabilities even over the past could of decades is remarkable. Moving forward, I would imagine not only the memory available will continue to rise, but the way we access it will continue to develop, as well – from sub-pint-sized memory sticks to consumer cloud storage by the gigabyte.


  1. From jonathan cardoza at 8:33 pm on May 29, 2012

    I would maybe consider the human brain has a dynamic RAM, which increases (and some cases decrease). Just wonder how fast the brain would be considered in Ghz???

  2. From AndrewH at 8:17 am on May 30, 2012

    That’s what I was thinking – brain memory might even be more accurately described as having different forms. Maybe long-term memory carries with it more or less density in terms of digital bytes and maybe short terms memory is similarly different. And I would assume that the dynamic nature of human memory would be in constant flux as you flip functions from utilizing short and long term memory capabilities. I guess the real limitation is the inability to really compare a digital byte with a human brain “byte” – whatever that might be. In my mind, brain speed faces the same hurdle – how can you measure something without really knowing how the units of measurement match up?