Jeff Hawkins - On Intelligence

"The way to eliminate the harm caused by stereotypes is to teach our children to recognize false stereotypes, to be empathetic, and to be skeptical. We need to promote these critical-thinking skills in addition to instilling the best values we know. Skepticism, the heart of the scientific method, is the only way we know how to ferret out fact from fiction." (p. 204)
In this surprisingly well written and easy-to-read book, Jeff Hawkins proposes not only a general theory of how the mind works, but how using similar techniques to the human mind in computers can potentially allow for AI to finally get somewhere productive. I'm not an expert on the subject, but to me at least, On Intelligence may have the makings for an instant classic (not unlike The Demon-Haunted World or The Blind Watchmaker) in the field. It certainly has more to offer than other works I have read such as The Creative Loop (which Hawkins tends to agree with even though he doesn't quote from or even reference) or Creation. It is yet another work which dismantles the theories of Steven Pinker (yet does not mention Pinker specifically).
[Brain] Cells were not born to specialize in vision or touch or hearing [or language]. (p. 54)
Unlike Pinker, Hawkins can be quite humble (see, for instance, p. 174) and admit to areas where he may be wrong or where his theory is mostly speculation. He is certainly correct in some areas though. Key among those is how our brains key in on what is new or different and attempts to fit those new pieces of data into what is already "known" and taken for granted or largely ignored from a consciousness perspective.
The brain is an organ that builds models and makes creative predictions, but its models and predictions can as easily be specious as valid. Our brains are always looking at patterns and making analogies. If correct correlations cannot be found, the brain is more than happy to accept false ones. Pseudoscience, bigotry, faith, and intolerance are often rooted in false analogy. (p. 193)
On Intelligence is an outstanding book that should be read by everyone. As mentioned, above, it is very easy to read (with the exception, perhaps, of one chapter)--even for someone with no background on the subject. Whether you read it to find out the problems with current AI ("Intelligence is measured by the predictive ability of a hierarchical memory, not by humanlike behavior." p. 210), to gain insights into how the mind works, or to get a glimpse of how truly intelligent machines may be able to assist humans in the future, you will be pleased. It is as fascinating as it is enjoyable.

from the publisher:
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.

"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

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.