I don't normally talk to friends about what I'm reading. But for the past two weeks I've been obsessively telling friends - even my 78-year-old mother - about this book. Maybe it's just me, but I find hearing On Intelligence has changed the way I think about computing and human intelligence. I suddenly feel I understand a range of phenomena which have intrigued or baffled me for years.
I can't do justice to Hawkins's thesis, but I'll take a stab. He claims to have figured out how the cortex - the part of the brain that was "new" to mammals, and whose size seems to be the greatest difference between humans and other primates - works. In other words, he asserts a general theory of what makes humans intelligent, and more generally, of what we're doing when we think.
Based on several lines of evidence, he rejects the idea that the cortex is primarily sifting through input data, looking for general patterns, with each stage summarizing and passing information up to more abstract levels. Instead, Hawkins asserts that the cortex is mainly MODELING the world we sense, and spends the great bulk of its effort actually passing predictive data DOWN to lower levels, including sensory areas.
These predictions are broken into an unbeliveably detailed representation of the world, modeling at the level of individual sensory neuron, what we will see, hear, touch, in the next second or two. Wherever this prediction is more-or-less right, it is treated as "confirmed" and the world we experience is mainly THAT PREDICTION, not a summation of this instant's actual nerve receptors' sensations. Where the prediction is NOT confirmed, an "exception" is generated, which either causes minor adjustments in the predicted scenario, or draws our conscious attention to the unexpected event.
If that doesn't make sense, listen to the book. There's a lot more to it.
This book has changed the way I see the world. I think it's a really big deal.
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