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How Complex Is a Single Neuron in Your Brain?

An artificial intelligence network did not do nearly as well

Every single neuron in your brain is this complex:

Today, the most powerful artificial intelligence systems employ a type of machine learning called deep learning. Their algorithms learn by processing massive amounts of data through hidden layers of interconnected nodes, referred to as deep neural networks. As their name suggests, deep neural networks were inspired by the real neural networks in the brain, with the nodes modeled after real neurons — or, at least, after what neuroscientists knew about neurons back in the 1950s, when an influential neuron model called the perceptron was born. Since then, our understanding of the computational complexity of single neurons has dramatically expanded, so biological neurons are known to be more complex than artificial ones. But by how much?

To find out, David Beniaguev, Idan Segev and Michael London, all at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, trained an artificial deep neural network to mimic the computations of a simulated biological neuron. They showed that a deep neural network requires between five and eight layers of interconnected “neurons” to represent the complexity of one single biological neuron.

Even the authors did not anticipate such complexity. “I thought it would be simpler and smaller,” said Beniaguev. He expected that three or four layers would be enough to capture the computations performed within the cell.

Allison Whitten, “How Computationally Complex Is a Single Neuron?” at Quanta Magazine (September 22, 2021) The paper is closed access.

Every single human embryo has a brain this complex.

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How Complex Is a Single Neuron in Your Brain?