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Editorial 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.

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

Critic Reviews

"[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)

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  • Overall
  • John
  • New York, United States
  • 01-13-06

It changed my life!

Often, we will jokingly say one thing or another "changed our life". Sometimes we say it with real meaning attached when an event or experience actually does impact us profoundly. This is one of those cases. I wouldn't presume to scientifically review this book. I don't have any background or foundation for doing that. I can, however, tell you, that like Dr. Hawkins (and I'm just going to assume he has that title... and if not... watch as the best Universities start clamouring to award him that honorarium, and adjunct him to their faculties), I have always had an abiding interest in how the brain works. However, nothing ever illuminated how it actually functions. Not until now. This book starts out with a clear intention to explain this core mystery... and delivers on the promise. It's not so much a mystery any more.

On Intelligence describes the indescribable in ways that any reader can relate to immediately. Dr. Hawkins provides analogies and constructs for his ideas that will give you one aha! moment after another. He describes unseeable processes in ways that will make you feel he has experienced the same things you have. You will find yourself mentally agreeing with him over and over, saying to yourself "That's right... that's right..." in much the same way you find yourself laughing when Bill Cosby tells a joke. His approach and examples are simply so universal, one can't help but see his points clearly. What I'm finding best about this, though, is not the fact that I understood them, but that I immediately internalized them and started using these new found concepts to my advantage.

I wasn't joking, this book has changed my life. It is unfortunate, but during the past five years (and 7 massive eye surgeries) I have essentially lost my sight completely. There are ideas in this book which make me believe for the first time that my brain may actually be able to decode the calamitous light perception with which I've been left. Read this book!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Brookfield, CT, USA
  • 04-07-05

Succinct description of a neuro-scientific theory

This book deserves to be regarded with high esteem for the comprehensive and competent research, thought and presentation that Hawkins put into it. He is a first rate theorist with abundant credibility by virtue of his significant accomplishments in the engineering and business worlds.
Regarding overcoming the limitations of existing machine-human interfaces, he offered as an example the creative process he personally used to develop the GRAFFITI handwriting recognition software for the Palm OS devices which really brought the point home.
His lack of academic arrogance in the description of his research accomplishments underscores his dedication to intellectual honesty and connectivity with other scientists in this field is especially essential in this topic.
His deliberate omission of any tangential thinking and theories regarding the metaphysical implications of this field of science is entirely appropriate but I couldn't escape the feeling that he was a bit too much the materialist on this point. His argument that the brain is the mind was unconvincing.
On the one hand he disparages the existence of what he calls the "special sauce" of awareness and consciousness but on the other hand never really explains the "qualia" in the prediction-memory model.
He confines his theory to include only neo-cortical physiology without regard to interactions with the "older" anatomy of the ("reptilian") brain or to the functional relationships between spirit, emotion and intelligence.
These objections probably don't even relate to his core thesis and as the gospelist Mark wrote about Jesus' reply to the question of how one may recognize a false prophet from a true prophet - "by their works shall you know".
Engineered devices and machines successfully developed from even incompletely understood natural phenomena tell the tale. If it is to be part of our future that intelligent machines will one day be commonplace, it is thinkers like Jeff Hawkins that will lead the way.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Scott
  • Kaneohe, HI, USA
  • 03-17-05

An intriguing theory and enjoyable listen

On Intelligence is an excellent book and I strongly recommend it for both science and non-science types. Anyone interested in the wonder and structure of intelligence should enjoy this book.

The book is well-written and very entertaining. Mr. Hawkins and Ms. Blakeslee did a great job. The narrator (Stephan Rudnicki) is excellent and makes listening easy and enjoyable. He also handles well the occasional humor (some fairly dry) that the author injects.

This book is good for both the scientist and non-scientist. The first 5 chapters lead the listener through the background of Jeff Hawkins and his theory of human intelligence. I think they are well done in their treatment of the subject and critically important in understanding the later chapters and Mr. Hawkins intelligence theory. The first 4 chapters culminate in his new framework of intelligence given in Chapter 5. Chapter 5 then leads to his vision of intelligent machines in Chapter 8.

Mr. Hawkins presents a novel and intriguing new way of looking at human intelligence. He explains were AI and other researchers have made mistakes in looking at the brain and in considering it analogous to a super-computer. He says it is very different than a computer and then proceeds to lay out his memory-prediction model of intelligence and theory of brain function.

I appreciate Mr. Hawkin's "Testable Predictions" in the Appendix. He provides the testable predictions so that researchers can test his conclusions and theory on the nature of intelligence. I am a little puzzled that he only calls on young researchers and entrepreneurs to take up the call to test out his theory. Those well into their careers may be just as interested in working on the subject and injecting venture capital into new ideas and companies. He should have called on all with an interest in the subject to join in the work to understand human intelligence better and create truly intelligent machines.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

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 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jason
  • Springfield, MO, USA
  • 07-20-09

Worth multiple listens

If you are interested in Artificial Intelligence or just how the brain works, you will enjoy this insightful book. It's even better at double speed, since the reader is a bit slow. Otherwise very thought provoking.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tony
  • St. Albans, WV, United States
  • 02-10-08

Modeling Models

After listening to a TWIT podcast, I added this book to my queue and I was not disappointed. I've studied computer science and medicine and this book gives a new and fresh perspective concerning how the human brain works. For those who take the time and listen to this book, you will look at decision making in a new way and have a greater appreciation of the design of the human brain.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sammy
  • montreal, QC, Canada
  • 11-16-05


wow. just wow. life changing.

from Turing machines to Bayesian Logic, from relativity to the lizard brain. Complex scientific topics made accessible to non PHD students.

Excellent book.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Eric
  • MALIBU, CA, United States
  • 02-16-13

Insufferably self-celebratory and conceited

I picked this up on a 4.95 sale but I can't finish it. I wanted to listen to 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

Assumptions and assertions about research threads other than his own are conveniently packaged with plenty of straw men, when with a little bit more scientific humility he could be so much more effective. I would love to see what he put in his later chapters, but can't deal with all the sludge you have to put up with to get the good stuff.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Thad
  • Durham, NC, USA
  • 04-29-10

Good insights but preachy at times

I found this book to enlightening, well written and entertaining with just the right combination of technical nuance. Definitely recommended. However, at times the author came across as preachy and overly zealous in striving to make sure that there is nothing magical about the mind. I do not necessarily disagree with it -- he just keeps hammering the point home.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful