Researchers at the Salk Institute discover that the algorithm used to control the flow of information on the Internet is also at work in the human brain. The Internet employs an algorithm called “additive increase, multiplicative decrease” (AIMD), a kind of “foot on the gas, but heavier on the brake” concept to avoid congestion in the network. If a packet of data is received promptly, the network is perceived to be open and data transmissions can be moved at a higher rate. As each packet moves through the system, your computer knows it’s safe to increase its speed by one unit. If a packet is lost or delayed, your computer recognizes the congestion and slows down relatively more. As users slow down throughout the network, the system finds a “sweet spot,” congestion is avoided, and efficiency is maximized.
To find out whether the brain manages information similarly, the researchers compared actual data on neural activity from 20 experimental studies to AIMD to six other flow-control algorithms. As expected, AIMD turned out to be the most efficient of the computer models at keeping the flow of information moving smoothly. And AIMD also turned out to best explain what was happening to neurons experimentally. Well, after all, we did create the Internet. Good to know it may not be us against the algorithms after all.