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On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines Paperback – July 14, 2005
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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It is rare that I come across and academic-related book and find myself fully engaged. However, On Intelligence seemed to do exactly that. Hawkins provides an alternate perception of how the brain works and gives us a secret mechanism that can be unlocked to predict the future. This new approached immediately substituted my view on the way the brain functions. Having always thought that the brain was simply a computer executing various commands, I quickly learned that the real function is its ability to make predictions about the future. Explaining the intricate details of the individual mechanisms of the cortex, we quickly learn how the brain can build intelligent machines. "Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neo-cortex, and the foundation of intelligence". What was even more fascinating was the concept of how we can make these predictions base on memories that are built in our brain overtime. On Intelligence, was a truly an eye-opening book for me and forced me to turn to the next page after each chapter.
Hawkins gives his own outline of the book in order for the reader to better understand the goal of his writing. Starting with a background on some of the previous attempts at understanding intelligence and how those theories have failed, Hawkins develops an essential theory of what he calls the memory-prediction framework. He uses thought experiments to illustrate the extensiveness of prediction as well as evolutionary comparisons to explain the brains function as it relates to intelligence. Although Hawkins doesn't dwell to long on the biological functions and mechanisms of how these processes are performed, he does spend quite a bit of time on the methods of operation of how the cortex utilizes a hierarchy of invariant memories and sequences to make futuristic predictions. The shift is then made towards the final chapters of the book in which Hawkins starts tying the connections between intelligence and the creative side of the brain. He explains how this source of power can be used to our advantage and determines the success rate for years to come. Lastly, Hawkins makes some predictions of involving the fears of intelligent machines, "Throughout the twenty-first century, intelligent machines will emerge from the realm of science fiction into fact". This final section made me ponder the reality of all of those science fiction books and movies where AI can develop the impossible characteristics of emotions, creativity and self-learning. Most of these plots nearly always have a negative outcome.
Hawkins choice of style and structure of the book proves to be an interesting one. He immediately delivers his personal experiences by explaining the method in which he came upon his theory. The first chapter is dedicated to his personal history and how he became interested and involved in the area of neuroscience. Failing to be accepting into MIT, Hawkins explains the scientific establishment has always rejected the link between neuroscience and artificial intelligence. After explaining his past and his previous thoughts and ideas, Hawkins dives into the main section of the book that includes his primary theory. As stated before, he develops the concept that the brain is a mechanism that has the ability to predict the future. Hawkins predicts that in all areas of the cortex, "anticipatory cells" can be found that fire only in anticipation of a sensory event. He then goes on to explain the primary functions of each of the cortexes throughout corresponding chapters.
Hawkins is able to attract the reader so quickly by his ways of illustrating specific examples or inquiring about memory tests for the reader to actually perform. He uses these concepts and analogies in order to better explain the framework for his ideas and concepts of cortex function. I think these methods were extremely crucial in achieving the goal set out by Hawkins; to enlighten all audiences interested in how the brain functions. Although many neuroscientists today can agree that very little is actually known about the processes and mechanisms of neural functions with validation, Hawkins provides his alternative approach to possibly diminish this vast gap of our understanding. Although some readers may be overwhelmed by the enormous amounts of information confined within this book, I believe it still gets the message across in a significant way as to avoid the loss of the concept and still spark the interest for future understanding.
My recommendation for future readers would be to do some outside research prior to reading this book. Although you can come in with absolutely no knowledge of brain function, it would not hurt to get some basic knowledge of the different systems, such as the visual, auditory and sensory systems work in individually and in unison. This will most likely reduce the overwhelming factor previously mentioned and truly aid in your fascination of the theories described. Perhaps check out some other neuroscience books as well. However, when it comes to the primary focus of this book and how it relates to artificial intelligence, you will not find a better read. For that case, I have given Jeff Hawkin's masterpiece, On Intelligence, 5 out of 5 stars.
The author focuses most of his attention on the cortex, the most recently evolved part of the human brain, and the one responsible for many functions of higher intelligence. His speculation is that this system uses the same generalized learning/prediction algorithm throughout, with little difference in how input from vision, hearing, touch, and other senses are processed. All this data is just sequences of patterns that the cortex filters through its multilayered hierarchy, each layer discerning trends in the input from lower layers, and forming models of the world.
This may sound like the traditional AI concept of "neural networks", but Hawkins breaks from that model with his view that the cortex uses massive amounts of feedback from higher, more time-invariant layers (which view the world more abstractly) to lower, more time-variant layers (which deal with more concrete experience), activating many context switches. He sees the cortex as a blank slate upon birth, which follows relatively simple programming to accumulate and categorizes knowledge. As our minds form, we find ourselves experiencing the world less through our sensory input, and more through our pre-formed models. Only when there is conflict between those models and our input sequences, is our conscious attention drawn to our senses.
In terms of biological neuroscience, this is all probably overly simplistic and not completely accurate (Hawkins doesn't give a lot of attention to the older, more instinctive parts of the brain), but if he's even partly right, his ideas have huge implications for artificial intelligence. If much our human intelligence really does boil down to a generalized memory-prediction algorithm -- one that may be complex, but not beyond our understanding -- the effects on the future will be astounding. Even if Hawkins wasn't able to prove his claims, they're fascinating to contemplate, and the next few decades will certainly shed a lot of light on their truth.
If this book speaks to you, consider also reading Marvin Minsky's A Society of Minds, which contains a lot of complementary ideas.