I have a terrible memory. I get frustrated with myself when I can’t remember someone’s name. Worse, you know those login screens that prompt you for a number they text you? Ideally you should just be able to glance at it and then key in the number, right? Well, I sometimes have to look multiple times to get it right. It’s the same with dates, phone numbers and addresses. It’s embarrassing. I used to say, I have a photographic memory, but I’m always out of film. Sadly, that joke is about to run out of generational memory too.

How is your memory? Do you sometimes get “out of memory” errors when you try to learn something new? You’re not alone. If you are like me, you will find yourself leaning a lot more on notes and digital tools to help “remember.” I have lists for birthdays, groceries, food orders, clothes and gifts. This external memory storage is an incredible blessing. Now I just have to remember where I put the notes.

How do we remember? It turns out that we are made up of tiny little chatty organisms that love to talk to each other. They sit on our shoulders, at the apex of the human structure, behind our smile and the light of our eyes. We have about 100 billion of these little creatures. Their tiny arms reach out and connect with each other. With their dendrites they branch out and listen for incoming chatter from their neighbors. With their long axons arms, they pass along that information, ever the while adjusting that signal through the synaptic contacts. They subtlety change their connections, including adding brand new ones, in response to experiences or learnings, enabling them to form new memories and modify existing ones. Everything we experience through our senses is broken down into signals that are fed into this incredibly complex neighborhood of neurons, listening, adapting and signaling. This is how we remember. Sometimes, I wonder if my friendly neighborhood neurons are on holiday.

Artificial Intelligence seeks to replicate this incredibly complex learning ability through neural networks. Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, have had their massive networks trained on enormous amounts of textual data. Over time, that learning encodes into the digital representation of synaptic connections. Those “weights” are tuned so that given an input prompt signal, the output produces something that matches the desired result. The amount of memory that these can contain is incredible. You can ask questions about history, science, literature, law, technology and much more, and they will be able to answer you. All that knowledge gets compressed into the digital neural network as represented by virtual synaptic weights.

LLMs are often categorized by the number of synaptic “weights” they can adjust to gain this knowledge. They are called parameters. You can run a 7 billion parameter model on your home computer and it will impress you with its vast knowledge and proficiency. It even has a command of multiple human and computer languages. The most impressive models like ChatGPT have 175 billion parameters and far exceed the capability of the smaller ones. It contains the knowledge and ability to pass some of the most advanced and rigorous exams.

Sit down for a minute. I’m going to tell you something that may blow your mind. Guess how many synaptic connections we have sitting on our shoulders? 100 trillion! That’s right, 1000 times greater than the current LLMs that seem to know everything. But that is just the start. Our brain is capable of forming new connections, increasing the number of parameters in real time. Some suggest it could reach over a quadrillion connections. The brain adapts. It grows. It can reorganize and form new synaptic connections in response to our experiences and learning. For example, when you learn a new skill or acquire new knowledge, the brain can create new synaptic connections to store that information. So answer me this, tell me again why I can’t remember my phone number?

Do you understand how amazing you are? I mean, really. You have an incredible ability to learn new skills and store knowledge. If you manage to learn everything your head can store, the brain will grow new storage! This biological wonder that we embody is infinitely capable of onboarding new information, new skill, new knowledge, new wisdom. Think for a minute. What is it that you want to learn? Go learn it! You have the capability. Use it. Practice expanding your brain. Listen. Look. Read. Think. Learn. You are amazing! Don’t forget it!