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A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,588 ratings  ·  383 reviews
An author, neuroscientist, and computer engineer unveils a theory of intelligence, of understanding the brain and the future of AI. For all of neuroscience's advances, we've made little progress on its biggest question: How do simple cells in the brain create intelligence? Jeff Hawkins and his team discovered that the brain uses maplike structures to build a model of the w ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 2nd 2021 by Basic Books
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Bill Gates
Few subjects have captured the imaginations of science fiction writers like artificial intelligence. If you’re interested in learning more about what it might take to create a true AI, this book offers a fascinating theory. Hawkins may be best known as the co-inventor of the PalmPilot, but he’s spent decades thinking about the connections between neuroscience and machine learning, and there’s no better introduction to his thinking than this book.
Keith Martin
Oct 26, 2020 rated it liked it
A Thousand Brains is a mixed bag. The first half describes Hawkins' theory of how the neocortex works, and there's a great deal there that is appealing. As a theory, it's relatively simple and self-consistent, and it fits the available data, at least in broad strokes. The theory operates at an intermediate level of abstraction: it's higher-level than the bottom-up feature analysis of David Marr, and it's lower-level than the top-down Society of Mind of Marvin Minsky. To borrow a phrase from Sili ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
Mar 10, 2021 rated it liked it
When Charles Darwin worked out the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century, he didn’t have all the details in which the theory would ultimately depend. After all, On the Origin of Species was published in 1859—a full 49 years before the term genetics was introduced and 94 years before the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

But while Darwin didn’t know the details of genetic inheritance, he was able to deduce, through countless observations, that all plant and animal life—includ
Jan 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
I like this analogy:

Imagine 50 people are invited to an evening party. Everyone arrives at the party at a randomly chosen time. When they get there, they open the door and step inside. What are the chances they see a party going on or an empty room?

It depends on how long they each stay, If all the partygoers stay for one minute before leaving, then almost everyone who shows up will see an empty room and conclude that no one else came to the party. If the partygoers stay an hour or two, then the
Apr 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: focus, next, library
I felt a kinship with Hawkins when he talked about finding out as a younger man that academic labs study very specific parts of the brain (or specific diseases), and not the workings of the brain as a whole. Unlike him, I did not absorb that information, invent the Palm Pilot, and then found my own whole-brain research lab. My journey involved taking a philosophy of the mind course, learning about the "hard problem", and giving up on the brain altogether. But now I'm thankfully out of the dark a ...more
Eren Buğlalılar
Apr 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: populer-bilim
Started as a fine popular science piece on how the brain models the objects and ideas by turning the electrical signals into "reference frames".

But ended as a meagre "populist science" attempt to explain wars, social injustice and climate change as the undesired results of our evolutionary "old" brain, which is the part that evolved before the neocortex and drives our basic evolutionary instincts.

I don't know what to say. Didn't Hawkins have any friends with at least a sociology degree who wou
Ben Zimmerman
Aug 12, 2021 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. Basically, I think that the broad stroke explanation for how the cortex works is a great summary and conveys the core ideas of reference frames, hierarchies, prediction, and action-based learning quickly and at an easy level of understanding. As a neuroscientist, I was craving a little more depth for some of the ideas. For instance, Hawkins proposes a mechanism of various models of the world, instantiated in cortical columns, as "voting" on what will become ...more
Mar 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Jeff Hawkins has likely solved the "easy" problem of consciousness. That is, he has likely figured out the algorithm by which the mammalian neocortex operates - the root of intelligence. By some accounts, this also solves the "hard" problem of consciousness - what consciousness itself is.

Let me say this again: Jeff Hawkins has likely solved humanity's longest and greatest philosophical and scientific question. Thus, if you like books, and I imagine you do, this is arguably the most important boo
Sebastian Gebski
May 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
I've decided to read this book mainly because I was looking for something on mapping modern artificial intelligence on the learnings of neuro-morphology. I can't say I've found what that, but the book was interesting enough.

There are three distinctive parts here.

1. the first one is about the anatomy of a human brain - it wasn't fascinating, a lot of information is already covered in many sources (e.g. the role of the neocortex, "old brain", etc.), but the final theory (about the reference frames
Mike Lisanke
Mar 27, 2021 rated it did not like it
The author sounded pompous throughout the book when speaking about himself, his observations, his background, and his understanding and beliefs. IMO he makes many assumptions and presumes facts from current theory which is tenuous at best. The author spends very little time developing his teams theory of 1000 Brains and supporting it with actual evidence. The author also wonders through many subject areas from neuro-science to artificial intelligence to the policy discussion of mankind (as if an ...more
Pete Castleton
Apr 19, 2021 rated it it was ok
Big disappointment. Hawkins is a bit of a hero of mine, but this rambling pop-sci book does nothing to advance his reputation. While he and his team have made substantial contributions to theoretical neuroscience and the potential next wave of a more generalized AI, this book provides few details other than a steady stream of self-congratulatory remarks. He lauds Vernon Mountcastle, who pioneered cortical columns as the source of intelligent computation, but provides little description of his wo ...more
Kunal Sen
Apr 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I have been involved with AI/Machine Learning since late 1970s. Even though my professional involvement stopped a while ago, I never stopped reading about AI, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Consciousness, and many other related fields. Over the years as my exposure to this area has increased, so did my list of open questions for which I could not get a satisfactory answer. Looking back, all these annoying gaps and open questions ultimately boil down to one fact – we still don’t have a broad th ...more
Oct 29, 2021 rated it liked it
A Thousand Brains is made up of an inconsistent mishmash of ideas, varying in quality and profundity. The parts of the book in which Hawkins talks about neuroscience are insightful, but everything else is parochial with a hint of arrogance.

Hawkins offers a physiological grounding to theories that explain cognition as a process of modelling/inference. It does this by presenting well-reasoned evidence proposing that each of the ~150k cortical columns in our brain contains a model of reality that t
Michael Dubakov
Aug 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, ai

The first part of the book is cool. As usual, Jeff explains ideas clearly and precisely. The unified theory of neocortex operations is intriguing.
- Neocortex consists of replicated similar structures (cortical columns) 2 sq. mm each.
- Every cortical column works quite independently and can construct complex models of reality
- Neocortex creates frames of reference for all surrounding objects and concepts and navigates them (most likely via place and grid neurons).
- In a nutshell, the neocortex
Oct 20, 2020 rated it liked it
The premise is that neuroscience has always interested me, but I am not an expert. That said, the book is divided into three parts, and the first two (respectively the new theory of a Thousand Brains and its application to AI) seemed to me extremely interesting, scientifically founded and mandatory to continue to deepen in the appropriate places. Unfortunately in the third part the author has turned into a kind of prophet of doom with some statements that I found unclear and above all unfounded, ...more
Sumit Gouthaman
Feb 25, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Would recommend reading at least part 1 of the book. Very thought provoking.
Jan 16, 2022 rated it liked it
Wanted to learn more about the introduced brain theory. After the first third, instead of going deeper, the author goes on a journey over a long list of other topics. they have, in my opinion, little to do with what I reasonably expected from the book.
Aug 08, 2021 rated it it was ok
The book comes in two main parts, the first part describes Jeff Hawkins's theory of intelligence and the latter part discusses philosophical implications, popular retorts from the AI safety community, and some suggestions for how humanity might preserve intelligence going forward.

The main theory of the book is that the neocortex is arranged in cortical columns and that the purpose of these neocortical columns is to create & predict spatial reference frames of the world around us and how we can i
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Amazing Discussion Marred By Myopia In Its Final Act. This book, by the guy that created the Palm Pilot (who has since turned to study neuroscience, which he had wanted to do from the beginning apparently), describes the intriguing new theory of how the brain works that he and his team have crafted very well. Hawkins does a truly excellent job of making the advanced theoretical neuroscience he works with approachable by all, from those who have barely ever heard of the word "neuroscience" to his ...more
Mar 10, 2021 rated it liked it
The first third was a neat little intro to neuroscience in general. Would have been nice for me to read it 10 years ago.

The actual thesis doesn't need a book though. One chapter would have been sufficient.

Half to two thirds of the book are a weird tangent on existential risk, machine intelligence and extraterrestrial search for life. I like those topics, but I did not expect the author to cover these topics. I don't see really why he thought it necessary to put them into this book.

What I found
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
Jeff Hawkins and his lab have some really valuable ideas and approaches so I was excited about his new book, but I can’t recommend it, even to readers unfamiliar with Hakwins. The information available here can be better gained by reading his first book On Intelligence, listening to his interviews with Ginger Campbell, and reading some of his recent papers. Those sources contain more detailed explanations and a bit less of his ego and condescension.

The first half recaps his bio and On Intellige
Apr 06, 2021 rated it did not like it
Old ideas about neural networks + grating self-agrandizement + endless repetition + unrelated musings about culture + unrelated musings about aliens = new book about neural networks?
Aug 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: school-program
"Fake history book" is one of the best euphemisms I've ever heard. Chapter about false beliefs is absolutely amazing. ...more
Aysja Johnson
May 26, 2021 rated it liked it
I am overall a huge fan of Numenta. I think they're doing really valuable work in theoretical neuroscience and I think they are onto something really exciting and novel in the field. Jeff Hawkins is clearly very intelligent and good at theorizing. That said, his philosophical treatment of other topics in the book (simulations, superintelligent AI, etc) was overly confident and extremely simplified. All of his arguments have well thought out counter arguments that he failed to mention. So, I'm no ...more
Khoi Nguyen
Dec 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computing, science
In this book, Jeff Hawkins has definitely expressed his strong belief about how the brain works, which are all big claims. Therefore, this book is very ambitious, which has pros and cons.

I like the first 2 parts. The first talks about the Thousand Brains Theory, with a couple of mind blowing ideas about how the brain works -- similar 'cortical columns' working under 'reference frame' mechanism. This part makes me daydream of reverse engineering the brain (to the point that I can't close the book
Ajit Mathew
Feb 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I am surprised this did not win the Goodreads Non Fiction of the year award. The book presents a new theory on how the brain work based on the authors research which has been well recieved by the scientific commiunity. Apart from the theory, there is an autobiographical section and a futuristic section which makes the book inspiring, intellectual and scary at the same time. Even though some of the theories presented in the book are not yet validated by the larger scientific community, I think th ...more
Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I personally loved it and will most likely keep it on my kindle for regular re-reads of certain chapters, but giving a broad recommendation of it is difficult.

Jeff is a very pragmatic thinker. Some ideas and proposals might not be to everybody's taste. There's also a slight tinge of nihilism in the last part of the book that will probably turn many readers off.

That being said, if you're in any way fascinated by neuroscience you should definitely give this one a read, but keep an open mind about
Apr 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, intriguing and inspiring!

If you're at all interested in how our brains work, artificial intelligence and the future of an intelligent species, I totally recommend reading this book.
May 31, 2021 rated it really liked it
The first part of the book is mind-blowing. If you’re interested in neuroscience this is definitely going to be a treat.

The second part is mostly speculation. It’s not bad per se. It’s just meh. Some things described are actually going mainstream as far as “futurism” goes, some are implausible.
Mar 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
After reading "On Intelligence" I knew that I need to read Jeff Hawkins' new book and unsurprisingly I enjoyed the new book as much as I enjoyed the previous one. ...more
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