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On Intelligence

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

By Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee
12-minute read
Audio available
On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines by Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee

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.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

"Almost everybody talks about artificial intelligence these days, and big parts of the tech industry try to crack AI systems. On Intelligence is a nice introduction and provides context for everyone who wants to understand the underlying concepts of this hot topic."

– Tobias, CTO of Blinkist

  • 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

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

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

By Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee
  • Read in 12 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 7 key ideas
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On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines by Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee
Synopsis

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.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

"Almost everybody talks about artificial intelligence these days, and big parts of the tech industry try to crack AI systems. On Intelligence is a nice introduction and provides context for everyone who wants to understand the underlying concepts of this hot topic."

– Tobias, CTO of Blinkist

Key idea 1 of 7

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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