Book Review: On Intelligence

July 24, 2006 § Leave a comment

On Intelligence

Science and Technology

On Intelligence

by Jeff Hawkins

I almost fell out of my seat when I learned about this book. Someone gets it!

The book is very readable; the author uses a pop-culture style to explain brain neuroscience and the creation of what he calls intelligent machines.

Hawkins starts by debunking existing Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks as un-intelligent in not first properly defining “intelligence”.

Rather than defining intelligence by the Turing Test and behavioral outputs, he proposes that machines more closely model actual brain biology. Immitating cerebral cortex cell function, intelligent machines would then include 1.) enhanced feedback, 2.) simple, but massively repeated process hierarchies and 3.) some sense of time as fundamental design elements.

I was surprised to discover that he had personally written the prototype for Graffiti, the handwriting recognition engine used on most handheld devices!

Author Background

I found the history leading to the writing of the book as interesting as the main subject. He outlines his early interest in brain biology, work at Intel, return to college and founding of Palm Computing.

Pursuing his passion in college and into his early career, Hawkins failed attempts to garner interest in brain-based projects. As eventual creator of the hugely successful Palm Pilot and Treo products, he espoused simplicity in design and cautioned his own engineers that complex usually means confused.

I was surprised to discover that he had personally written the prototype for Graffiti, the handwriting recognition engine used on most handheld devices!

Conclusion

Because of the similarity to my own thinking with MoodSense™, I couldn’t help but like this book. He’s a far more influential and experienced engineer, so I admit it was a shot in the arm to hear that someone of his caliber agrees with me on some level.

My only complaint is that this book is obviously too short to properly cover the subject – even at a layman level. Consequently, he makes more than a few leaps of logic to support his conclusions. To paraphrase, “we should consider technology potentially superior to nature in the way planes are superior to birds” -> i.e. evolution is a biological “kludge” we may surpass with fresh thinking (ironic, considering his premise).

If you’re not too bent on the details, and view it as a starting point, this is an excellent read.

I recommend this book.

-Joe

Buy On Intelligence at Amazon.com | View Other Book Recommendations

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