On Intelligence

Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee

St. Martin's Griffin

Jeff Hawkins, who created the PalmPilot, the Treo smart phone, and other handheld devices, here presents a brilliant book that stands ready to revolutionize both neuroscience and computing in one stroke. Indeed, 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 for each input it receives. Instead, this book argues that the brain is a memory system that stores experiences in a way reflective of 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, then, is the capacity of the brain to predict the future by analogy to the past.

In an engaging style that will captivate, stimulate, and speak clearly to all, 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, which will not simply imitate but exceed our human ability in surprising ways. This groundbreaking study will be a must for today's students and scholars of neuroscience, psychology, computing, and AI.


Read an Excerpt

From On Intelligence:
Let me show why computing is not intelligence. Consider the task of catching a ball. Someone throws a ball to you, you see it traveling towards you, and in less than a second you snatch it out of the air. This doesn't seem too difficult-until you try to program a robot arm to do the same. As many a graduate student has found out the hard way, it seems nearly impossible. When engineers or computer scientists try to solve this problem, they first try to calculate the flight of the ball to determine where it will be when it reaches the arm. This calculation requires solving


Praise for On Intelligence

"On Intelligence will have a big impact; everyone should read it. In the same way that Erwin Schrödinger's 1943 classic What is Life? made how molecules store genetic information then the big problem for biology, On Intelligence lays out the framework for understanding the brain."
--James D. Watson, president, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Nobel laureate in Physiology

"Brilliant and embued with startling clarity. On Intelligence is the most important book in neuroscience, psychology, and artificial intelligence in a generation."
--Malcolm Young, neurobiologist and provost, University of Newcastle

"Read this book. Burn all the others. It is original, inventive, and thoughtful, from one of the world's foremost thinkers. Jeff Hawkins will change the way the world thinks about intelligence and the prospect of intelligent machines."
-- John Doerr, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee

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

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


Available Formats and Book Details

On Intelligence

Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee




St. Martin's Griffin