MAN & MACHINE portrayed in the Forschungsmagazin “Ruperto Carola”

Can the human brain be described as a kind of machine – and, by extension, human memory as a time machine? What do software and the human mind have in common, and what are the ethical dilemmas involved in the use of artificial intelligence (AI)? Neurobiologist Hannah Monyer and geoinformatics expert Bernhard Höfle present talking points on the relationship between man and machine, reflect on what tasks each can perform better and explain why algorithms alone do not produce perfect results.

The human brain – particularly its memory function – has always been associated with technology, says Hannah Monyer. But according to her, this comparison is flawed because unlike audio tapes or computers, the brain does not save information in precisely the way it occurred. Instead the brain sorts information during the learning process, saving some things and deleting others. “Our brain is not just a storage device for facts; the facts are selected even while they are registered and then undergo a process that is shaped by all that came before – every piece of information is put in a specific context.” She explains that neurobiologists owe much of their knowledge about the brain to advances in information technology – in many cases, it was computers that allowed scientists to learn how the brain works.

The field of geoinformatics combines the strengths of man and machine to answer questions of a geographical nature. According to Bernhard Höfle, machines can repeat clearly defined tasks such as measurements with the aim of achieving increased objectivity, while algorithms allow scientists to apply specific tasks to large digital data sets that would be impossible to process for humans. “On the other hand, humans are clearly in the lead when it comes to discovering things that we were not even looking for or could not conceive of.” He emphasises that with respect to AI, we need to define which tasks should be delegated to machines – with due regard to ethical and moral considerations – instead of all the things that could be delegated: “Not everything that is theoretically possible should ultimately be put into practice.”

Interview with Prof. Monyer (Neurobiology) and Prof. Höfle (Geography):

Read the full magazine online (in German):



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