[FoRK] Kudos for Jeff Hawkins' _On Intelligence_
jbone at place.org
Wed May 25 20:04:55 PDT 2005
So I've been wrong about Jeff Hawkins three times.
Active Paper and Palm were about the same size back in '93 / '94. We
viewed them as a potential "competitor" in what we believed would be
a rich emerging market for 3rd-party PDA software. I met Jeff and
the Palm team a few times over the course of a couple of years and,
well, misjudged him and his business several times.
Strike One: "Nobody's going to learn a *new alphabet* just to get
freakin' text into their PDAs." ;-) Four years later I'm entering
text into my Palm Pilot at nearly 30 words a minute. Doh!
Strike Two: "Those dolts, off quixotically writing their own
platform. How the hell are they going to compete with the all-star
cast of General Magic's partners and licensees? Nope, we're going to
fill in the huge missing piece (Internet connectivity and apps) for
Magic Cap and make a fortune while those guys tank." Two years later
we'd made a nice up-front payment licensing our stuff to General
Magic, but Magic Cap had tanked and our huge back-end never
materialized. And I was in line at Demo to sign up for one of the
first Palm Pilots.
Strike Three's a bit more subtle.
I knew of (and perhaps had even discussed briefly) Jeff Hawkins
fascination with neuroscience. I considered it to be a fascinating
but rather pointless avocation rather than a serious calling. He was
an engineer / entrepreneur, after all --- *not* a real scientist. He
surely wasn't going to contribute anything meaningful so far afield
of his expertise, and particularly not while trying to rule the PDA
Serious kudos for _On Intelligence_. A bit pop / tech-light, but a
great glimpse into what may be one of the most important insights of
our time. Hawkins has taken his entrepreneurial treasure chest and
used it to bankroll a neuroscience research institute with one goal:
figure out *how the brain works* --- i.e. how the structure and
electrochemical activity of the human brain gives rise to
intelligence. And he may have done it. The book presents what ---
while a synthesis of prior primary research, etc. --- may be the
first convincing, comprehensive theory of how the architectural
microstructure and macrostructure of the cerebral cortex gives rise
to human cognition, sentience, etc. Hawkins calls it the "memory-
While some of the details may be wrong, the hypotheses presented in
this book just *feel* generally right. It's simple, consistent,
coherent, and maps fairly well to observation. And --- while this is
a very apples / oranges sort of thing --- it fits well with my own
recent experiences with neurally-inspired software architectures,
learning systems, and so forth.
If you have any interest at all in the human brain and the phenomenon
of intelligence, read this book.
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