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.
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.
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.
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
“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