Book Excerpt
On Intelligence
by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee

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An excerpt from On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee, published 2004 by Times Books.
Book excerpt reprinted with the permission of the publisher.
Copyright © 2004 Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee


Book Excerpt --

Can we build intelligent machines?

Yes, we can build intelligent machines, but they may not be what you expect. Although it may seem like the obvious thing to do, I don't believe we will build intelligent machines that act like humans, or even interact with us in humanlike ways.

One popular notion of intelligent machines comes to us from movies and books -- they are the lovable, evil, or occasionally bumbling humanoid robots that converse with us about feelings, ideas, and events, and play a role in endless science-fiction plots. A century of science fiction has trained people to view robots and androids as an inevitable and desirable part of our future. Generations have grown up with images of Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet, R2D2 and C3PO from Star Wars, and Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek. Even HAL in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, although not possessing a body, was very humanlike, designed to be as much a companion as a programmed copilot for the humans on their long space journey. Limited-application robots -- things like smart cars, autonomous minisubmarines to explore the deep ocean, and self-guided vacuum cleaners or lawn mowers -- are feasible and may well grow more common someday. But androids and robots like Commander Data and C3PO are going to remain fictional for a very long time. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, the human mind is created not only by the neocortex but also by the emotional systems of the old brain and by the complexity of the human body. To be human you need all of your biological machinery, not just a cortex. To converse like a human on all matters (to pass the Turing Test) would require an intelligent machine to have most of the experiences and emotions of a real human, and to live a humanlike life. Intelligent machines will have the equivalent of a cortex and a set of senses, but the rest is optional. It might be entertaining to watch an intelligent machine shuffle around in a humanlike body, but it will not have a mind that is remotely humanlike unless we imbue it with humanlike emotional systems and humanlike experiences. That would be extremely difficult and, it seems to me, quite pointless.

Second, given the cost and effort that would be necessary to build and maintain humanoid robots, it is difficult to see how they could be practical. A robot butler would be more expensive and less helpful than a human assistant. While the robot might be "intelligent," it would not have the kind of rapport and easy understanding a human assistant would have by virtue of being a fellow human being.

Both the steam engine and the digital computer evoked robotic visions, which never came to fruition. Similarly, when we think of building intelligent machines, many people find it natural to imagine humanlike robots once again, but it is unlikely to happen. Robots are a concept born of the industrial revolution and refined by fiction. We should not look to them for inspiration in developing genuinely intelligent machines.

So what will intelligent machines look like if not walking talking robots? Evolution discovered that if it attached a hierarchical memory system to our senses, the memory would model the world and predict the future. Borrowing from nature, we should build intelligent machines along the same lines. Here, then, is the recipe for building intelligent machines. Start with a set of senses to extract patterns from the world. Our intelligent machine may have a set of senses that differ from a human's, and may even "exist" in a world unlike our own (more on this later). So don't assume that it has to have a set of eyeballs and a pair of cars. Next, attach to these senses a hierarchical memory system that works on the same principles as the cortex. We will then have to train the memory system much as we teach children. Over repetitive training sessions, our intelligent machine win build a model of its world as seen through its senses. There will be no need or opportunity for anyone to program in the rules of the world, databases, facts, or any of the high-level concepts that are the bane of artificial intelligence. The intelligent machine must learn via observation of its world, including input from an instructor when necessary. Once our intelligent machine has created a model of its world, it can then see analogies to past experiences, make predictions of future events, propose solutions to new problems, and make this knowledge available to us.

Physically, our intelligent machine might he built into planes or cars, or sit stoically on a rack in a computer room. Unlike humans, whose brains must accompany their bodies, the memory system of an intelligent machine might be located remotely from its sensors (and "body," if it had one). For example, an intelligent security system might have sensors located throughout a factory or a town, but the hierarchical memory system attached to those sensors could be locked in a basement of one building. Therefore, the physical embodiment of an intelligent machine could take many forms.

There is no reason that an intelligent machine should look, act, or sense like a human. What makes it intelligent is that it can understand and interact with its world via a hierarchical memory model and can think about its world in a way analogous to how you and I think about our world. As we will see, its thoughts and actions might he completely different from anything a human does, yet it will still be intelligent. Intelligence is measured by the predictive ability of a hierarchical memory, not by humanlike behavior.

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee,

Book Description --

From the inventor of the PalmPilot comes a revolutionary new theory of intelligence and a bold vision for the future of intelligent machines.

Jeff Hawkins, who created the PalmPilot, the Treo smart phone, and other handheld devices, has reshaped our relationship to computers. Now, with this brilliant book about the true nature of human intelligence, Hawkins stands ready to revolutionize both neuroscience and computing in one stroke.

On Intelligence 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. Previous attempts at replicating human intelligence -- through artificial intelligence and neural networks -- have not succeeded. Their mistake, Hawkins argues, was in trying to emulate human behavior without first understanding what intelligence is.

The brain is not a computer, supplying by rote an output of each input it receives. Instead, it is 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. Intelligence is the capacity of the brain to predict the future by analogy to the past.

In an engaging style that will captivate audiences from the merely curious to the professional scientist, On Intelligence explains what intelligence is, how the brain works, and how this knowledge will finally make it possible for us to build intelligent machines, in silicon, that will not simply imitate but exceed our human ability in surprising ways.

Written with the acclaimed science writer Sandra Blakeslee, On Intelligence promises to completely transfigure the possibilities of the technology age. It is a groundbreaking book in neuroscience, psychology, and the quest to build intelligent machines.

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee,

About the Authors --

Jeff Hawkins is one of the most successful and highly regarded computer architects and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. He founded both Palm Computing and Handspring, created the Redwood Neuroscience Institute to promote research on memory and cognition, and is a member of the scientific board of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He lives in northern California.

Sandra Blakeslee has been writing about science and medicine for The New York Times for more than thirty years. She is the coauthor of Phantoms in the Brain with V. S. Ramachandran and of Judith Wallerstein's bestselling books on psychology and marriage. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee,