Analog versus digital: extrapolating from electronics to neurobiology

Neural Comput. 1998 Oct 1;10(7):1601-38. doi: 10.1162/089976698300017052.


We review the pros and cons of analog and digital computation. We propose that computation that is most efficient in its use of resources is neither analog computation nor digital computation but, rather, a mixture of the two forms. For maximum efficiency, the information and information-processing resources of the hybrid form must be distributed over many wires, with an optimal signal-to-noise ratio per wire. Our results suggest that it is likely that the brain computes in a hybrid fashion and that an underappreciated and important reason for the efficiency of the human brain, which consumes only 12 W, is the hybrid and distributed nature of its architecture.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Artifacts
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Computers* / economics
  • Computers, Analog* / economics
  • Electronics / instrumentation
  • Electronics / methods*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neurobiology / instrumentation
  • Neurobiology / methods*