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On Intelligence [Kindle Edition]

Jeff Hawkins , Sandra Blakeslee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (220 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the inventor of the PalmPilot comes a new and compelling theory of intelligence, brain function, and the future of intelligent machines


Jeff Hawkins, the man who created the PalmPilot, Treo smart phone, and other handheld devices, has reshaped our relationship to computers. Now he stands ready to revolutionize both neuroscience and computing in one stroke, with a new understanding of intelligence itself.


Hawkins develops a powerful theory of how the human brain works, explaining why computers are not intelligent and how, based on this new theory, we can finally build intelligent machines.


The brain is not a computer, but a memory system that stores experiences in a way that reflects the true structure of the world, remembering sequences of events and their nested relationships and making predictions based on those memories. It is this memory-prediction system that forms the basis of intelligence, perception, creativity, and even consciousness.


In an engaging style that will captivate audiences from the merely curious to the professional scientist, Hawkins shows how a clear understanding of how the brain works will make it possible for us to build intelligent machines, in silicon, that will exceed our human ability in surprising ways.


Written with acclaimed science writer Sandra Blakeslee, On Intelligence promises to completely transfigure the possibilities of the technology age. It is a landmark book in its scope and clarity.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jeff Hawkins, the high-tech success story behind PalmPilots and the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, does a lot of thinking about thinking. In On Intelligence Hawkins juxtaposes his two loves--computers and brains--to examine the real future of artificial intelligence. In doing so, he unites two fields of study that have been moving uneasily toward one another for at least two decades. Most people think that computers are getting smarter, and that maybe someday, they'll be as smart as we humans are. But Hawkins explains why the way we build computers today won't take us down that path. He shows, using nicely accessible examples, that our brains are memory-driven systems that use our five senses and our perception of time, space, and consciousness in a way that's totally unlike the relatively simple structures of even the most complex computer chip. Readers who gobbled up Ray Kurzweil's (The Age of Spiritual Machines and Steven Johnson's Mind Wide Open will find more intriguing food for thought here. Hawkins does a good job of outlining current brain research for a general audience, and his enthusiasm for brains is surprisingly contagious. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Hawkins designed the technical innovations that make handheld computers like the Palm Pilot ubiquitous. But he also has a lifelong passion for the mysteries of the brain, and he's convinced that artificial intelligence theorists are misguided in focusing on the limits of computational power rather than on the nature of human thought. He "pops the hood" of the neocortex and carefully articulates a theory of consciousness and intelligence that offers radical options for future researchers. "[T]he ability to make predictions about the future... is the crux of intelligence," he argues. The predictions are based on accumulated memories, and Hawkins suggests that humanoid robotics, the attempt to build robots with humanlike bodies, will create machines that are more expensive and impractical than machines reproducing genuinely human-level processes such as complex-pattern analysis, which can be applied to speech recognition, weather analysis and smart cars. Hawkins presents his ideas, with help from New York Times science writer Blakeslee, in chatty, easy-to-grasp language that still respects the brain's technical complexity. He fully anticipates—even welcomes—the controversy he may provoke within the scientific community and admits that he might be wrong, even as he offers a checklist of potential discoveries that could prove him right. His engaging speculations are sure to win fans of authors like Steven Johnson and Daniel Dennett.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
188 of 211 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Indispensable October 8, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is not very often that you encounter a book that alters, not simply what you think, but how you look at the world. On Intelligence is such a book. Jeff Hawkins develops a perspective on intelligence that makes sense of much of what I have discovered about learning over the past twenty years. His focus is on a unified model of how the cortex works, but in truth you do not need to have deep interest in neurobiology to see the power of the model. The book is very clear and readable, something I have learned to associate with Sandra Blakeslee's deft touch (see, for example, Phantoms In the Brain, by Ramachandran and Blakeslee). The heavy lifting occurs in the lengthy sixth chapter, "How the Cortex Works." You might want to skim this chapter or even omit it entirely on your first reading. It is well written, but requires a very thoughtful reading. The model Hawkins develops in this chapter underpins his view of intelligence, but it is not necessary to grasp the details to appreciate the power of the vision. If you have the slightest interest in the role of the brain in making us who we are, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I couldn't recommend it more highly.
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75 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Intro to Even Greater Insights February 18, 2005
Format:Hardcover
The accolades previous reviewers have lavished upon this book are all fully deserved. It is not, however, "the first time all these bits and pieces have been put into a coherent framework". The work of Stephen Grossberg explored all of these themes in the 1970s. Unfortunately Grossberg expressed his key insights in systems of differential difference equations that few could understand and fewer still could build upon or contribute to.

To his credit, Hawkins does cite Grossberg approvingly at several junctures in his argument, but he fails to take into account several of Grossberg's greatest insights into neocortical processing: his theory of how serial processing can be accomplised in a parallel anatomy and his theory of "rebounds". The latter is especially important since it explains how new memories are prevented from overwriting old memories. For example, when I learn a second language, it doesn't overwrite my first.

These criticisms, however, are in no way meant to detract in the slightest from Hawkins' superb book. It is an eminently readable account of neocortical computing, and correct in all its broad brush strokes. If you are as beguiled by "On Intelligence" as the other reviewers in this thread, my purpose is only to alert you to the even deeper wonders that are to be found in Grossberg's work. As I have said, his work is difficult, but his 1980 and 1982 Psychological Review articles will provide good entry-points. Those of you with an interest in brain and language will find an even better second course in neocortical computing in Loritz' "How the Brain Evolved Language" (Oxford University Press, 1999).
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Central Dogma for the Brain September 29, 2004
Format:Hardcover
Jeff Hawkins is the man who was the architect of the PalmPilot, the Treo, and invented Graffiti, an alphabet for inputing data to a computer with a stylus. But this book is about his other love, the deciphering of the code that makes the human brain work. There is nothing like a big, important puzzle to get the blood working, and mine was powerfully pulled along . With the human genome project's sequencing of human DNA nearly completed, understanding the brain has got to be the most important scientific undertaking one can think of. Hawkins easily persuades us that there is a burning need for a "top down" model for the brain that can play a role something analogous to the Central Dogma of molecular biology, which guides and organizes research, prioritizing the myriad of possible tasks into something like that required for the logistics of a conquering army's march through an alien land.

He also persuaded me that he has some important insights of that model that I found tantalizing, new and exciting. His central model concerns the role of the cortex in producing intelligence. He makes the case for a central dogma he calls "the memory-prediction framework." This idea says that the cortex is a machine for making predictions for temporal sensory patterns based on memories of past patterns. The prediction algorithm carried out in the cortex is the same for all of the senses of vision, touch, hearing, etc., which accounts for, among other things, the basic physiological uniformity of the cortex, and the plasticity of the brain in adapting to such problems as blindness or deafness.

He argues that since the "clock" of the brain operates at a tick-rate on the order of 5 milli-seconds, and most of the functions of the brain (e. g.
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133 of 156 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Vague and Inaccurate December 15, 2005
Format:Hardcover
The early parts of the book (up to around p 60) were a great read and convinced me to buy the book. But when Hawkins finally laid out his "big ideas", I was deeply disappointed. Hawkins spends considerable space claiming that AI researchers hack up algorithms based on the "how do I do it" approach. He suggests that "real" intelligence requires memory-based hierarchical models.

What is especially frustrating to this AI (specifically vision) researcher, is that Hawkins does not seem to be aware of any AI research that has been going on in the last 15 years, during which data-driven learning approaches have become standard. I was merely suspicious of his ignorance until I checked his bibliography, in which the most recent technical AI citation was from before 1990.

Furthermore, Hawkin's theories on the brain are largely unsubstantiated. He states that his ideas were largely sparked by one dated paper that other researchers have largely ignored - probably for good reason. For instance, he claims that, since different parts of the brain have a similar physical structure, they must function similarly. This is very oversimplistic.

Nevertheless, I did find parts of the book to be entertaining and appreciated his view on the brain's role as a predictor. Although I do not think that I completely wasted my time in reading this book, my time could have been better spent reading something else. Therefore, I recommend this book to non-scientists who want to read about the brain but aren't particularly concerned about the accuracy/usefulness of what they read. Just be a very critical reader and be careful not to be smacked in the course of all the hand-waving!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in...
Fascinating book that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in creativity, AI or brain function. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Zach Ivie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An exemplary book, both in terms of style and scientific integrity.
Published 13 days ago by Alexander
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a bit old now, But it ...
This book is a bit old now, But it is one of those books that really must be read. Form a state of work perspective look for the Numenta whitepaper
Published 16 days ago by chandan
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Did not enjoy reading this book. IMHO too many lose ends...
Published 23 days ago by Juan Vargas
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking Thought
Brilliant.
Published 23 days ago by Rix Ryskamp
4.0 out of 5 stars What is intelligence and can it be fabricated in machine form?
The author proposes a new and plausible model of intelligence - ability to make predictions - and offers possible enumerations of how it could be applied to building intelligent... Read more
Published 28 days ago by Abhishek
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A _GREAT_ gift for any brain/science curious in your friendly.
Published 1 month ago by Daniel P. Garthwaite
1.0 out of 5 stars I received the wrong book, some kind of book ...
I received the wrong book, some kind of book on the bible. it was too much of a hassle to return so I gave to my somewhat religious parents, but I don't know if they've read the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Matt W.
5.0 out of 5 stars cortical concepts
This book is very interesting for a beginner in AI. This book provides a framework on how feedback loops in the cortex produces learning and pattern recognition. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Paul Cottrell
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
Makes a complex subject readable and exciting, but I don't know to what extent author's explanation of physiology of memory is speculative or backed by scientific proof.
Published 1 month ago by mac mini user
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