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On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines
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On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  5,905 ratings  ·  427 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
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 3rd 2004 by Times Books (first published 2004)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Start your review of On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines
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
Apr 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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
Oct 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Eric Hamilton
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
Faisal Nawab
Oct 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Vinit Nayak
Oct 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ryan Lackey
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 ...more
Carina Kaltenbach
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 ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed thoroughly. Read it twice.
Sarah Soderberg
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
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
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Daron Yondem
Oct 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Matthew Finneran
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good framework for how the mind works and what will really be necessary to achieve true artificial intelligence. I'm not sure if it's possible but the author seems to think it will be someday. One chapter is pretty dense about he biology (he wants you so) but the rest is filled with examples and explanations and very easy to follow.
Nizar Hadeli
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Fuzzball Baggins
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
A good dose of neuroscience and philosophy in layman’s term. Absolutely love this book!
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Brandon Bosse
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed it. Yes, this book will be a lot of review if you come from a neuroscience background, but I still found that I was being introduced to new concepts that really rang true. For example, I liked how he described intelligence as being about making accurate predictions. His description of the feedback loops found in the brain circuitry as existing to facilitate prediction-checking really made a lot of sense and is a great foundation for building ...more
Josh  Giunta
Aug 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jeff Hawkins' theories about the brain are genius...

this video below outlines the main premises for his brain theories:

Synopsis of the book:
In a nutshell, his theory claims that the evolutionarily unique intelligence of our species can be attributed to the advanced functioning of our neo-cortex. This part of our brain offers a unique memory system of our experiences. The neo-cortex is like a giant file cabinet of all of our previous experiences.... in a
Pohsuan Huang
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
insightful, inspiring, scientifically supported piece of technical writing, which however more thrilling than sci-fi to me. Easy to understand for general public, straightforward writing style saves your time on understanding what exactly is intelligence.

Jeff Hawkins's work points right to the question “ How does brain work? ” As an engineer, he tackle with this one of the most crucial questions of humanity with great scientific scrutiny and incomparable enthusiasm that stems from his
May 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

On Intelligence is a telling reminder that there is as much role for theoretical ideation as is for experimental inquiry in the field of neuroscience. At a time when any concrete 'universal' theories of the brain are elusive, books like these bring fresh perspectives through the sheer boldness of their hypothesis.

So this then is intelligence. Intelligence, as understood in context of the brain, stems from an ability to glean information from the inherent statistics of the natural world at

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“It is the ability to make predictions about the future that is the crux of intelligence.” 5 likes
“Deep Blue didn't win by being smarter than a human; it won by being millions of times faster than a human. Deep Blue had no intuition. An expert human player looks at a board position and immediately sees what areas of play are most likely to be fruitful or dangerous, whereas a computer has no innate sense of what is important and must explore many more options. Deep Blue also had no sense of the history of the game, and didn't know anything about its opponent. It played chess yet didn't understand chess, in the same way a calculator performs arithmetic bud doesn't understand mathematics.” 5 likes
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