On Intelligence

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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 ...

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On Intelligence

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Jeff Hawkins invented the PalmPilot, but we think that his real claim to fame is that he has written a completely accessible book on intelligence. One would imagine that the father of the fastest-selling and most ubiquitous computing device ever would be eager to tout the capabilities of "smart machines." On the contrary, Hawkins insists that computers designed to replicate human behavior are doomed to fail. To explain why, he develops an intriguing theory of how the human brain relies on memory, pattern, and prediction. "We live," he writes, "by our expectations, and someday our machines will, too." A breakthrough book for the common reader.
From the Publisher
"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

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. Agent, Jim Levine. (Oct. 3) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What does the inventor of the PalmPilot have to say about the brain? First and foremost, it's nothing like a computer. With a national author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Hawkins, the PalmPilot's inventor, is keen to build truly intelligent machines based on his ideas of how the brain really works. The brain is no computer, this guru of handheld devices makes clear. The AI folks have got it wrong, even with their neural networks and feedback devices. The brain is not a super-fast PC computing all the moves so as to beat you at chess. It's slow, but oh-so-clever. It can fill in the quote when you supply it with a few words, read your crummy handwriting, hum the tune given a couple of notes. All this is possible, Hawkins says, because of the hierarchical structure of the neocortex covering the brain. The cortex is composed of six layers of cells that connect up and down in columns, sideways to cells in other columns, and also connect to other parts of the brain. Incoming signals, say from the eye, send a constantly changing barrage of signals to cells in the visual cortex that, through a succession of relays up and down, get transformed into invariant patterns (a face, for example). Memory, in Hawkins's theory, is a neocortical function based on extracting invariant features of spatial (or temporal) sequences of patterns and employing a process of "autoassociation" in which pattern one invokes an associated pattern two, etc. Hawkins provides many a homely example to comfort the reader traversing the neuroanatomical details, culminating in what he calls the memory-prediction concept of intelligence, in which we use memory to make analogies that allow us to anticipate what happens next, even to devise creative moves. The strength here lies in the solid work of neuroscientists under-girding Hawkins's ideas. Its weakness is his failure to consider the influenceof the brain's emotional/motivational circuitry on learning and memory. Ever the optimist, Hawkins considers building intelligent machines eminently doable. Given his track record, maybe he'll succeed. If not, the exercise may provide further insight into how the brain really, really works. Author tour. Agent: Jim Levine/James Levine Communications
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805078534
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 246,892
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 10.64 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet 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.

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Read an Excerpt

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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Table of Contents

1 Artificial intelligence 9
2 Neural networks 23
3 The human brain 40
4 Memory 65
5 A new framework of intelligence 85
6 How the cortex works 106
7 Consciousness and creativity 177
8 The future of intelligence 205
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2005

    Entertaining + informative

    I agree with earlier reviews of the book in that it is technically informative yet easy to read. For those in the field of neuropsychology, it may be odd for someone to promote the hierarchical structure of the brain as a major insight when this has been known for over a century through the work of Huglings Jackson and A.R. Luria and some other soviet scientists. Of perhaps greater interest in the work is the linking of that structure with computer science and making the computations explicit enough for a computer. Additionally, I agree with the author that the hierarchical structure is a big part of capturing the nested structure of the world, but there are many other elements including decision making, emotionality, integrating perceptual experience with prior memory representations, etc that will also need to be factored into the theory.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

    Fantastic read (and re-read)

    I've enjoyed reading and rereading a novel approach to brain science, artificial intelligence, and computer science.

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  • Posted February 10, 2009

    Great book!

    Written in a clear and elegant style, this book describes a model of the way the brain works and the authors' concept of what intelligence really is. The simple and commonplace illustrative examples make a technically complex subject comprehensible to the average layman. Recent results of research into the physiology of the brain is used to support each stage of the argument the authors present.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2004

    I liked it

    I found this book very interesting. You have to read it to understand.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2008

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    Posted November 2, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

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