The ability to learn new tasks and generalize performance to others is one of the most remarkable characteristics of the human brain and of recent AI systems. The ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously is also a signature characteristic of large-scale parallel architectures, that is evident in the human brain, and has been exploited effectively more traditional, massively parallel computational architectures. Here, we show that these two characteristics are in tension, reflecting a fundamental tradeoff between interactive parallelism that supports learning and generalization, and independent parallelism that supports processing efficiency through concurrent multitasking. We formally show that, while the maximum number of tasks that can be performed simultaneously grows linearly with network size, under realistic scenarios (e.g. in an unpredictable environment), the expected number that can be performed concurrently grows radically sublinearly with network size. Hence, even modest reliance on shared representation strictly constrains the number of tasks that can be performed simultaneously, implying profound consequences for the development of artificial intelligence that optimally manages the tradeoff between learning and processing, and for un- derstanding the human brain’s remarkably puzzling mix of sequential and parallel capabilities.