Jeff Hawkins pioneered the development of PDAs such as the Palm and Treo. Now he's trying to understand how the human brain really works, and adapt its method — which he describes as a deep system for storing memory — to create new kinds of computers and tools.

Why you should listen

Jeff Hawkins' Palm PDA became such a widely used productivity tool during the 1990s that some fanatical users claimed it replaced their brains. But Hawkins' deepest interest was in the brain itself. So after the success of the Palm and Treo, which he brought to market at Handspring, Hawkins delved into brain research at the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience in Berkeley, Calif., and a new company called Numenta.

Hawkins' dual goal is to achieve an understanding of how the human brain actually works -- and then develop software to mimic its functionality, delivering true artificial intelligence. In his book On Intelligence (2004) he lays out his compelling, controversial theory: Contrary to popular AI wisdom, the human neocortex doesn't work like a processor; rather, it relies on a memory system that stores and plays back experiences to help us predict, intelligently, what will happen next. He thinks that "hierarchical temporal memory" computer platforms, which mimic this functionality (and which Numenta might pioneer), could enable groundbreaking new applications that could powerfully extend human intelligence.

What others say

“Even if Hawkins finds only a small sliver of the Holy Grail he seeks [in brain research], he'll add yet another industry-moving startup to his resume.” — BusinessWeek

Jeff Hawkins’ TED talk

More news and ideas from Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins’ TEDTalk on how brain science will change computing

May 23, 2007

Jeff Hawkins brought us the indispensable Palm and Treo — now he’s turned his attention to the human brain, looking to our gray matter for clues to the next generation of powerful computers and software. To date, there hasn’t been an overarching theory of how the brain really works, Hawkins argues in this compelling talk […]

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