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On Intelligence

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  6,166 ratings  ·  450 reviews
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 u
Paperback, 261 pages
Published August 1st 2005 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 2004)
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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Okay. This book and I didn't get along terribly well, but the experience was nevertheless a valuable one. So, 3 stars, even though I disagree fundamentally with some of the theory and the style of presentation. This will be a long one; bear with me.

To put it simply.... Jeff Hawkins is a very intelligent computer engineer who thinks he understands brains in ways that no neuroscientist ever has before, mostly because he is willing to stand by a grand picture where most neuroscientists want to inve
Apr 01, 2009 rated it liked it
"On Intelligence (and Condescension)"

The only thing wrong with Jeff Hawkins's book is Jeff Hawkins. His idea for the brain basic structure is exciting. (basically he argues that the brain works off a near-recursive prediction model based on stimulus and memory.) And he's really into intelligent machines. In fact, he may have convinced me not to fear the giant robot armies that have plagued my dreams. Nope. Now I can fear the infinitely-sized hyper-conscious EverMind that operates mainly in the
Rich Brown
Jun 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Condescending, but interesting. A thousand examples too long. Or, to put it another way, the examples were 1 + 999 too many. Or as one might say, 10*100 examples are too many. In case I haven't made myself clear, think of it this way: more than 200 + 800 examples are in this book. This is heady stuff, so let me say it again. 400 + 600 examples are here, and more.

Computers compute, but brains do pattern recognition. Then they do pattern recognition on the patterns they've recognized. Then they re
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the brain and artificial intelligence
Hawkins' theory is that the entire sensory cortex runs a single cortical algorithm to perform all of its sensory functions.

This single algorithm simply looks for patterns. Layers and layers of brain cells performing this pattern recognition result in our sensory experience. Here is an example of how this might work for vision:

Layer 1 receives sensory input from the outside world and looks for general patterns of lines.
Layer 2 receives input from layer 1 and looks for patterns of edges from those
Eric Hamilton
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
I picked this up on sale but I can't finish it. I wanted a bright person's coherent and logical progression through a model of the brain. As bright as the author might be, he is astonishingly tone deaf to how distracting the relentless implicit and direct accolades he gives to himself are to the science he is trying to explain. The book might be summarized as a tapestry of ....introduction (all about me!)...look at me again! at me!...look at me! you see me?! etc ...more
Shea Levy
Moderately entertaining speculation on how intelligence works on a neural level in humans. A lot of his criticisms of neuroscience as practiced rung true to me (a more-than-layman less-than-initiate for this field) 10 years later, though I wouldn't be as extreme as he is. The framework he puts forth is at least plausible and has a certain elegance to it. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of support provided, and a lot of the assertions he makes (particularly his high confidence in Mountcast ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Jeff Hawkins has done a remarkable thing. He's essentially synthesised all of the information we have on how the brain works into a simple, elegant and utterly comprehensible theory of intelligence that will pave the way to the creation of truly intelligent machines. That's a massive claim I know but I honestly don't think I have ever read a simpler, more straightforward account of what intelligence is.

Hawkins' theory, in a nutshell, is that intelligence is a manifestation of the brains ability
Faisal Nawab
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
The book is a take on understanding (human-like) intelligence. The author introduces memory prediction framework to explain the kind of intelligence humans possess. He defines intelligence as the ability to predict. This ability (prediction) can then take different shapes, like decision-making and even creativity. He view the brain as a pattern-recognition device. Different sensory inputs, he claims, are treated in (almost) the same way by the brain.

The treatment of the subject was very pragmat
Vinit Nayak
Oct 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.23 stars

Awesome read even if you aren't familiar at all with AI, neural networks, or anything tech related. This book takes a stab at trying to explain how we learn, and breaks down the steps that our brain goes through during the process of learning and recollection.
It's a really good mix of easy to understand, higher level philosophical arguments as well as lots of technical details when he get's into the details about how the neocortex performs it's actions, from sensory input all the way t
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author is one of the top people in consumer tech (created Palm Pilot), and is deeply interested in AI. He does a pretty good job of presenting a few elements of the field (neural networks, primarily, and that prediction is the most key activity in the neocortex) to a general audience, and then includes some of his own theories and predictions (which is tricky because it's hard for a non-expert to know which parts are broadly accepted and which are his own theories...). Overall, a very interestin ...more
Carina Kaltenbach
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
To be honest, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I really enjoyed the first part, it gave a good introduction and discussion of neuroscientific research. Even though I didn't agree on most points (being somewhat a neuroscientist myself), I think it was well written and ~interesting~. But, I am not quite sure how to feel about the whole second part: his theory. Hawkins surely has good points, but I'm missing some kind of evidence for his ideas. Overall, I was a bit disappointed by the la ...more
Nano Lund
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book with an amazing framework of how our brains work . It was a fantastic read . This book lays out the framework for understanding brain . I think this is the most important book in neuroscience , psycology and artificial intelligence for sure . This book is the must read for everybody who is curious about brain and how it works . Sections of creativity , intelligence , power of imagination , psycology are very thoughtful and charming . Jeff hawkins will definitely change the way yo ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed thoroughly. Read it twice.
Romil Kinger
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
we humans are just a brain and a body. brain in this equation is the integral part, it gives us the identity and makes us what we are. you lose a limb, you just lose a limp; you lose a brain, you lose everything.

it is as complicated an organ as important it is, but science still doesnot know how it works, we just know the basics of how neurons interact, how signals are passed and which area is doing what work.

jeff hawkins, a neuroscientist, is trying to propose his theory of how, he thinks, bra
Sarah Soderberg
Dec 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Jeff Hawkins is most commonly known for inventing one of the first handheld computer devices, the palm pilot, and founding the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience. Although he has expressed interest in artificial intelligence his whole life, he has also expressed a deep interest for Neuroscience as shown in his book On Intelligence. In this book he brings the ideas of artificial intelligence and neuroscience together to present his theory of how the brain processes information. Here are ...more
Dimitri Yatsenko
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr Hawkins' dream was to encapsulate a basic theory of intelligence in a straightforward plainly written book. Written with science writer Sandra Blakeslee, "On Intelligence" combines Mr Hawkins' motivational autobiography, a scientific treatise on natural and artificial intelligence, and a philosophical discussion delivered in a no-nonsense, unembellished, yet stimulating narrative.

At its core, "On Intelligence" postulates that all higher cognitive functions are built on a single relatively sim
May Ling
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The book gets 5 stars for having been written in 2002 and only just now coming to the point at which the future has surpassed some minor aspects of what he's saying.

I really liked the way he addresses the topic of intelligence and what it really means to think about it in a non-linear way. If your going down this track of thought, On Intelligence sticks out.

P. 51 For example, a framework of mechanistic development of systems where the location is the difference vs. modularizing in a way that d
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
original review:

This is the second book that Phil Terry asked us to read as part of the Creative Good fellows program. It was writted by Jeff Hawkins, creator of the PalmPilot and Treo. Turns out Jeff's other passion is trying to understand how the brain works.

This book lays out his theory of how the mind works in layman's terms. Hawkins premise is that the brain uses a "memory-prediction" framework to operate, and states that his model fills in a lot of h
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nerd-stuff
Interesting high-level theory of how the neocortex works, and a call to create "intelligent" machines that use the same algorithm/structure to perform pattern matching, hierarchical learning and prediction
Andrej Karpathy
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
I liked this book: it contains a few nice thought experiments about intelligence. Bare in mind, however, that Jeff Hawkins' implementation of these ideas has not proven to be fruitful so far in his company Numenta.
Daron Yondem
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-learn
I can't really say this was a practical book but it definitely gives a different perspective on how the brain works and how the current AI implementations are totally off the target. It's enlightening. Worth the read if you are a software developer for sure.
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Key for understanding the different abstraction layers of how likely our brain and intelligence works. Key for understanding new developments in artificial neural networks too
This engaging, non(too)technical book offers a new and plausible theory of how the brain, or more specifically the neocortex, works.

When I learned about the existence of this book, I was drawn to it for a number of reasons. For one thing, I'm intrigued by the faculty we call intelligence: what is it, exactly? For another, I, like the author Jeff Hawkins, have long been fascinated by the brain and how it works. And finally I was eager to read a book on neuroscience by a nonscientist, for Hawkins,
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sadly, I found him to be arrogant. Normally I don't mind this, but it felt so indulgent it took away from the content.

Even the narrator had a tough time regurgitating his words. I'm pretty sure he was encoding "h e l p ... m e" in the duration of his spacing of words.

The good news is I treated it like a self help book as it drilled into my head 107 ways to stroke one's own ego.

Example "I'm not an expert in theoretical Atmospheric Astrophysics" yeah, no shit Sherlock.

He must have said "I'm not
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The tone of the book is of condescension as if this is the first book on intelligence. It is a book about brain functions, which many neuroscientists have studied. The portion that might be original is the comparison of intelligence to computing (with a lot of examples to make the content accessible). The author does a good job of explaining the difference between fast computing and artificial intelligence. A computer may be able to win at chess because it has all the possible moves stored in it ...more
Nizar Hadeli
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Nizar Hadeli
Book Review: On Intelligence

The book, On Intelligence, is an informative text on the physiology and psychology of the brain, and a philosophical discussion about the use of intelligence in machines and its possible effects in the future. This book is written by Jeff Hawkins with help from Sandra Blakeslee, but it is mainly centered on Hawkins and his knowledge and opinions. Hawkins is an electrical engineer with a degree from Cornell. Hawkins worked at Intel, helping with th
Fuzzball Baggins
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting theory, worth thinking about. The author went on about how traditional AI is lacking in many abilities that brain-like AI would do better in, which I found a bit annoying because some of the things he said about AI's failures were wrong or exaggerated. But other than that, a good book.
Quinn Anh Pham
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A good dose of neuroscience and philosophy in layman’s term. Absolutely love this book!
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Weak. The theory's interesting, sure, but in a book ostensibly targeted at the layman, alarm bells are set ringing by the author's dismissal of 'mainstream neuroscientists': as though the target audience is at all capable of forming coherent argument against the neuroscientific status quo. The resultant bag of salt I took this with massively affected my enjoyment.
Shalaj Lawania
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Felt this book was a bit too long and repetitive. Few interesting ideas presented, and might serve as a good introduction to AI & brains, but it was definitely way longer than it should have been. ...more
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