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On Intelligence | [Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee]

On Intelligence

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 understanding of intelligence itself.
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Audible Editor Reviews

The same man who created the Palm Pilot and other handheld devices criticizes contemporary technology for not learning more lessons from the greatest computer of all -- the human brain. Not stopping there, Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee go on to tackle the head-scratching subject of how our brains really work, and if artificial intelligence can ever truly catch up. But what really sets this listen apart is the passion with which the authors address the big questions about our brains.

After a solid intro from Hawkins, Stefan Rudnicki takes over the narrating reins. The effect is an audio program with a compelling ability to anticipate the question taking form in your own brain as you listen, then answer it with clarity and sincerity. That's a feat worthy of admiration.

Publisher's Summary

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 understanding of intelligence itself.

Hawkins develops a powerful theory of how the human brain works, explaining why computers are not intelligent and how, based on this new theory, we can finally build intelligent machines.

The brain is not a computer, but a memory system that stores experiences in a way that reflects the true structure of the world, remembering sequences of events and their nested relationships and making predictions based on those memories. It is this memory-prediction system that forms the basis of intelligence, perception, creativity, and even consciousness.

In an engaging style that will captivate audiences from the merely curious to the professional scientist, Hawkins shows how a clear understanding of how the brain works will make it possible for us to build intelligent machines, in silicon, that will exceed our human ability in surprising ways.

Written with acclaimed science writer Sandra Blakeslee, On Intelligence promises to completely transfigure the possibilities of the technology age. It is a landmark book in its scope and clarity.

Download the accompanying booklet of brain function illustrations, examples, and tests.

©2004 Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee; (P)2005 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"[Hawkins's] argument is complex but comprehensible, and his curiosity will intrigue anyone interested in the lessons neurobiology may hold for AI." (Booklist)
"[Hawkins] fully anticipates, even welcomes, the controversy he may provoke within the scientific community and admits that he might be wrong, even as he offers a checklist of potential discoveries that could prove him right. His engaging speculations are sure to win fans." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

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  •  
    GTC BEAUMONT, TX, US 08-11-06
    GTC BEAUMONT, TX, US 08-11-06 Member Since 2014
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    "Good content, but . . ."

    The theories and data in the book are truly fascinating, but the author’s style and the narration detract from the content.

    The main theme contrasts how our minds work with the way computers work. The writer's hypothesis is that no one will ever build an "intelligent" computer using the existing "computational" design structure of computers, even as technology progresses to produce increased computational speed and memory capacity (which, according to the author, have been the traditional, but incorrect, explanations for "artificial intelligence’s" failure to replicate the “true intelligence” of the human mind). The book contains many eye opening examples of things no computer has ever accomplished, but we accomplish easily and quickly with our minds – and others that human minds accomplish in a fraction of a second, but the biggest and fastest computers built to date take hours to "compute" – and it explains why.

    But the author’s interesting message suffers from his lack of focus in choosing an audience and writing for that audience. Instead, the book oscillates (in an almost schizophrenic way) between excessive scientific minutia (which seems to have been directed at convincing the scientific community of his credentials, and the validity of his theories); and "talking down" to the average reader (so they'll "get it"). And unfortunately, the style problem is compounded by the narrator’s tone of voice, which makes the writer sound arrogant and condescending. Other authors have proven that scientific data can be presented in an interesting and intelligible way, even to lay audiences. (One obvious example is the light hearted and entertaining style of Bill Bryson in A Short History of Almost Everything.)

    In short, while the content of the book is clearly fascinating, I think most readers would enjoy it more if they waited for an Audible abridged version, with (hopefully) a better narrator.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
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    David New York, NY, USA 07-11-05
    David New York, NY, USA 07-11-05 Member Since 2002
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    "Surprisingly Accessible"

    Although Hawkins is almost certainly wrong on certain point, such as his "blank slate" commitment concerning the brains with which we are born and almost annoyingly self-righteous when discussing "consciousness," about which he admits to not being expert but launchs energetically about anyway, the book was wonderfully ease to access. The clarity of explanation concerning what should have been an abstruse subject was a relief. I feel I know much more about the subject than I did before starting. It was well written and even better read by an excellent narrator. Thank you, Jeff!

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Glenn E. Graham Pflugerville, TX USA 03-21-05
    Glenn E. Graham Pflugerville, TX USA 03-21-05 Member Since 2002

    Glenn Earl

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    "I see a pattern..."

    Mr. Hawkins will be the first to admit this is not a book to explain everything about intelligence but an important first step. He puts forward a rational explanation of how intelligence in man works in practical mechanical terms. It is a theory but he has much to back-up his conjectures. His theory gets the ball rolling for a frank discussion of why, how, and what we really doing in our mind when we think. He avoids general behavior and philosophical musing about the human mind (that we are all to often inundated with on books about intelligence). I enjoyed every bit of it. At the very least you'll enjoy he very different approach to this age old question.

    This book is a really great start to addressing the problem of how we humans think. Good job Mr. Hawkins.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 11-24-05
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 11-24-05 Member Since 2014

    Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.

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    "Scientifically fascinating, metaphysically sloppy"

    This is really a fascinating book when it comes to the author's theory of how the brain works. I was greatly surprised by his assertion that very few unified theories exist regarding how the brain produces or mainfests "intelligence". It will be interesting to see if the theories offered in this book will stand the test of time, but the observations made regarding pattern recognition seem very true to experience.

    There are times that it is hard to visualize the concepts regarding the various "levels" of the cerebral cortex, but the downloadable drawings help a bit.

    My biggest criticism of the book is not scientific, but the author's logical inconsistencies when dealing with metaphysics. The author makes it clear that he believes our "minds" and "selves" are nothing more that the functioning of the brain (ie. no "soul" or anything beyond the physical). He makes it clear that he believes that our beliefs about morality are shaped by the "patterns" we grow up with - and that these "biases" can be very counterproductive. He also states that romantic "love" is really nothing more that a complex chemical process that starts in the brain and moves throughout the body.

    If the author had stopped there, I would do no more than respectively disagree. However, mere pages later the author states that it is important that we teach our children the "right" values and morals and that we espouse healthy loving relationships in our families. This author is far too smart to be unaware that if what he says is true in the prevous pages, both of these admonitions have no real meaning and are actually at odds with what he just stated.

    Overall - fascinating stuff to think about, but realize that the author has a naturalistic bias that he applies consistently when dealing with science, but inconsistenly when addressing the logical conclusions of his scientific beliefs.

    BTW - The author's preface was great - he would have made a GREAT reader for the book!!

    16 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Catanese Bradenton, FL. 11-19-05
    J. Catanese Bradenton, FL. 11-19-05 Member Since 2011
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    "Enjoyable, but Reductionist Science at its Best"

    No doubt Jeff Hawkins is a brilliant cortex, given that each one of us and the world we live in is nothing more than the experience of an active cortex. But he is not a wise human, which, in my mind, is the greatest achievement of homo sapiens, not the ability to recreate intellience in a machine.

    It is telling that he admits to never studying the nature of consciousness, but in one pithy statement of "fact", reduces it to one thing - the neo-cortex experience. When the cortex ceases to function, so does consciousness. It's not that he holds this "belief" that is troublesome, but rather the arrogance with which he holds his cortex-created model of the world to be "the truth."

    This book is an excellent example of the scientist telling us how the trunk of an elephant works and the value of putting that information to work for us humans, but the consistent conclusion that the elephant IS the trunk is tiresome, offensive, and indicative of an immature soul.

    Not being schooled in AI or neuroscience, I have no judgement on his theory - other than it is too reductionistic in general - and as one who has a passion for understanding as much as I can about being human, the discussion of how the brain works and what a model of this might be was enjoyable.

    As for the narrator, I found the voice professional and easy to listen to. What struck me having heard Jeff's voice, however, was how different the tone and character was between them. Jeff's voice - in my Blink judgement - exudes enthusiastic immaturity; the actor's voice is calm, maturity. For the record, my invariant representation of wisdom (i.e., mature intelligence) is based on 30 yrs of studying religion, sprituality, and human development. IMHO, my cortex is well-trained in this area.

    In sum, I welcome the endeavor to create truly intelligent machines, but I suspect Jeff & others will learn a lot more about the complexity of the human experience along the way.

    11 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    shopper 03-07-05
    shopper 03-07-05
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    "mostly interesting"

    I enjoyed the content of most of this book. It starts out strong and grabs your imagination, but in the end it gets quite tedious. There is a switch in narrators after the intro. Unfortunately, the site doesn't mention this or give the name. The 'ghost' narrator is one to be avoided in my opinion. He reads the text with a simpering quality to his tone. I would avoid any books read by him, if I only knew who it was.... The book makes reference to figures and publications. The figures can be downloaded from audible, but the quality is laughable. I wonder why the author doesn't provide readable copy. On the whole I was glad to have 'heard' the book.

    16 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott 01-20-14
    Scott 01-20-14

    I enjoy reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror the most. To improve, I read about language, psychology, spirituality, and art. I read about computer science and business for professional reasons.

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    "Great source of unique and high quality data."

    On Intelligence is written in a very explanatory and interesting way. The examples and problems are the sort that make you think in a deep way, and are great thought exercises.

    The topics covered range from psychology to neuroscience to artificial intelligence. I found a lot of the information new, a lot built on previous knowledge, and a lot was the authors unique perspective. The unique perspective was based on scientific reasoning and superb analysis.

    I did find myself lost at times in some of the details. My suspicion is that because I didn't view the figures before or while listening to the audio version, I was missing a lot of data. I'll probably listen to this book again in the future after studying further and checking out the figures that are used as examples.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlie Vancouver, WA, United States 10-25-11
    Charlie Vancouver, WA, United States 10-25-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Thrilling Understanding"

    This book was a very exciting listen. On Intelligence was able to explain to me how the brain, neo-cortex in particular, really works. Additionally they, along with Stefan Rudnicki, made this explanation both accessible and pleasurable. I am very impressed and, in my opinion, this is a groundbreaking work and a must read.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rodolphe valdor, Quebec, Canada 01-13-11
    Rodolphe valdor, Quebec, Canada 01-13-11
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    "so very interesting !"

    Candy for the mind ! very bright guy. I hope his theory is right.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    AKsmitty 02-03-09
    AKsmitty 02-03-09 Member Since 2013
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    "Intelligence- In Plain English"

    In 2005 I had a stroke. That event left me with loss of vision in the left hemisphere and a few cognitive concerns. This audio book while not the Stroke Survivors handbook provided me nourishing insights to the brain's structure and core intelligence. Both well written and read the information goes beyond our perception of intelligent robots and the quest for artificial intelligent (AI) software. Plus, you don't have to be a neuro jock or programmer to appreciate the principles conveyed. I'm reasonably certain anyone with an interest of the Scarecrow will find this book helpful and delightful. Enjoy the book. It provides many moments that will cause you to ponder and say uh hah.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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