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On Intelligence [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

Jeff Hawkins , Sandra Blakeslee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (191 customer reviews)

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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.

From Scientific American

"This book and my life are animated by two passions," writes Hawkins in On Intelligence. Those passions are mobile computing and brains. This curious combination becomes less puzzling when one realizes that Hawkins is a founder not only of two leading mobile computing companies—Palm Computing and Handspring—but also of the Redwood Neuroscience Institute in Menlo Park, Calif., which explores memory and cognition. Hawkins contends that the human brain and intelligence have little in common with today’s computing systems. Therefore, he offers his perspective on artificial intelligence, neural networks, cognition, consciousness and creativity, with the goal of explaining the mind. The book is elegantly written with Blakeslee, a veteran science writer for the New York Times. At its core, the book puts forth Hawkins’s "memory-prediction framework of intelligence"—a model of cognition positing that the main function of the human neocortex, and the basis of intelligence, is to make predictions. The brain constantly compares new sensory information with stored memories and experiences and combines the information to anticipate the future. In essence, as we wander around, we build a reserve of information from which we construct an internal model of the world. But we constantly update that model. When we see a friend wearing a new hat, the brain automatically predicts what that person ought to look like and contrasts that prediction with the new sensory rendering, updating its model. Brain prediction "is so pervasive," Hawkins says, "that what we ‘perceive’... does not come solely from our senses." The continuous interplay of sensory input, memory, prediction and feedback—which occurs instantly through parallel processing in the neocortex—ultimately gives rise to consciousness and intelligence. "Correct predictions," Hawkins contends, "result in understanding." Hawkins argues that creativity and imagination emerge from prediction as well. Imagination utilizes a neural mechanism to transform predictions into a form of sensory input—which is why our fantasies have such a strong "feel." Moving on, Hawkins says that true machine intelligence will arise only if it is rooted in the same principles as brain-based intelligence. By the book’s end, Hawkins proffers a "comprehensive theory of how the brain works," of "what intelligence is," and of "how your brain creates it." He acknowledges that many aspects of his theory have been developed by other scientists and that his role is to weave a comprehensive explanation. As such, this book provides some provocative thoughts on how the brain and the mind may actually function.

Richard Lipkin

From Booklist

A successful designer of handheld computers, Hawkins here explains (with help from New York Times science writer Blakeslee) his passion for artificial intelligence (AI). He holds that AI research has been on an unpromising path toward developing a program big and fast enough to be pronounced "intelligent." Such a brute-force approach is not how the human brain functions, so by way of proposing an alternative AI strategy, Hawkins explains how our brains work, admitting that his views are speculative. He delves into the anatomy of the neocortex, the thin structure that covers the brain and is the seat of higher-level thought. Hawkins virtually encapsulates for a popular audience the scientific literature on how the neocortex constructs a model of the world. The author becomes quite detailed in his explanations of memory formation yet never digresses from his core precept that intelligence is prediction. His argument is complex but comprehensible, and his curiosity will intrigue anyone interested in the lessons neurobiology may hold for AI. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"On Intelligence will have a big impact; everyone should read it. In the same way that Erwin Schrödinger's 1943 classic What is Life? made how molecules store genetic information then the big problem for biology, On Intelligence lays out the framework for understanding the brain."
--James D. Watson, president, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Nobel laureate in Physiology

"Brilliant and embued with startling clarity. On Intelligence is the most important book in neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence in a generation."
--Malcolm Young, neurobiologist and provost, University of Newcastle

"Read this book. Burn all the others. It is original, inventive, and thoughtful, from one of the world's foremost thinkers. Jeff Hawkins will change the way the world thinks about intelligence and the prospect of intelligent machines."
-- John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

About the Author

Jeff Hawkins is one of the most successful and highly regarded computer architects and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. He founded Palm Computing and Handspring, and created the Redwood Neuroscience Institute to promote research on memory and cognition. Also a member of the scientific board of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, he lives in northern California.

Sandra Blakeslee has been writing about science and medicine for The New York Times for more than thirty years and is the co-author of Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran and of Judith Wallerstein's bestselling books on psychology and marriage. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From On Intelligence:
Let me show why computing is not intelligence. Consider the task of catching a ball. Someone throws a ball to you, you see it traveling towards you, and in less than a second you snatch it out of the air. This doesn't seem too difficult-until you try to program a robot arm to do the same. As many a graduate student has found out the hard way, it seems nearly impossible. When engineers or computer scientists try to solve this problem, they first try to calculate the flight of the ball to determine where it will be when it reaches the arm. This calculation requires solving a set of equations of the type you learn in high school physics. Next, all the joints of a robotic arm have to be adjusted in concert to move the hand into the proper position. This whole operation has to be repeated multiple times, for as the ball approaches, the robot gets better information about its location and trajectory. If the robot waits to start moving until it knows exactly where the ball will land it will be too late to catch it. A computer requires millions of steps to solve the numerous mathematical equations to catch the ball. And although it's imaginable that a computer might be programmed to successfully solve this problem, the brain solves it in a different, faster, more intelligent way.
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