On Intelligence Book Summary - On Intelligence Book explained in key points
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On Intelligence summary

How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines

3.9 (77 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee explains how the brain's neocortex works and how it creates intelligence. The authors propose a new theory of intelligence, which is based on the idea that the brain is a memory system that stores experiences, not just facts.

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    On Intelligence
    Summary of 6 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 6

    Making computers more powerful will not make them more intelligent.

    In the past decades, computers have become ever smaller and more powerful.

    This development has inspired some researchers to dream of a computer powerful enough to actually think like a human being. However, despite the fact that modern computers have much more raw processing power than the human brain, they are still nowhere near intelligent, i.e., capable of being creative and understanding, and of learning from the world around them.

    That’s because computers and our brains are built on fundamentally different principles.

    Computers are programmed to do certain tasks, and that’s the extent of their abilities. They never learn anything new, but rather just store information without the ability of using it later to understand new incoming information.

    The brain, on the other hand, is not limited to pre-programmed tasks, but can understand and learn new things. That’s what makes it intelligent.

    For example, one famous computer, Deep Blue, beat Garry Kasparov, the world’s best chess player, at his own game. But Deep Blue didn’t win because it was more intelligent than Kasparov.

    An expert chess player like Kasparov can look at the board in any situation and instantly judge what moves make sense for his strategy and what kind of counter-response will follow. A computer, however, can only run the numbers of every single possible move and countermove, calculating the probabilities to victory. It does not understand chess any more than a pocket calculator understands the rules of math, despite its capacity for adding up numbers.

    In this sense, making processors more powerful or adding more memory capacity won’t necessarily help make computers intelligent. Rather, it will only make them faster at calculating – a task computers already perform better than humans. Nevertheless, computers still won’t be able to understand the world and think about the information they store the way humans do.

    It thus seems that the first step in building a truly intelligent machine will be understanding the workings of the human brain.

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    What is On Intelligence about?

    These blinks provide an overview of the human brain’s capacity for thinking and for comparing new experiences to old memories. They also explain why today’s machines still aren’t able to emulate this capability, but why we may soon be able to build ones that can.

    On Intelligence Review

    On Intelligence (2004) delves into the mysteries of the human brain and proposes a groundbreaking theory on how it works. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its innovative perspective on intelligence, it challenges traditional notions and sheds light on the true nature of the mind.
    • The book's scientific approach and detailed explanations make complex concepts accessible to a wide audience, enriching our understanding of cognition.
    • By exploring the relationship between neuroscience and artificial intelligence, the book offers profound insights into the future of technology and human intelligence.

    Who should read On Intelligence?

    • Anyone interested in how the brain works or what makes us intelligent and conscious beings
    • Anyone who wants to know whether we’ll ever build machines that are truly intelligent
    • Anyone wondering whether such intelligent machines would be good or bad for humanity

    About the Author

    Jeff Hawkins is the co-founder of the companies Palm and Handspring. After inventing the PalmPilot and the Treo smartphone, he began working for the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, a non-profit organization. It was there that he developed some of the theories presented in these blinks.

    Sandra Blakeslee writes for the New York Times as a science correspondent. She is the co-author of several books such as Phantoms in the Brain.

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    On Intelligence FAQs 

    What is the main message of On Intelligence?

    The main message of On Intelligence is that the brain predicts the world and learns from its mistakes.

    How long does it take to read On Intelligence?

    The reading time for On Intelligence varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is On Intelligence a good book? Is it worth reading?

    On Intelligence is worth reading as it explores fascinating insights about how the brain learns and predicts, providing a deeper understanding of our intelligence.

    Who is the author of On Intelligence?

    Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee are the authors of On Intelligence.

    What to read after On Intelligence?

    If you're wondering what to read next after On Intelligence, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Smarter by Dan Hurley
    • Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith
    • Mindset by Carol Dweck
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • The Culture Engine by S. Chris Edmonds
    • Metahuman by Deepak Chopra
    • Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee
    • The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
    • The Everything War by Dana Mattioli