Jeff Hawkins is finally ready to explain his brain research

Ever since selling Handspring to Palm in the early 2000s, Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot and founder of Palm, has been working on his true passion: neuroscience and trying to understand how the brain works. Teaming up with several neuroscientists and some former Palm people, his company Numenta, entirely funded by Hawkins himself, is now ready to show its research to the world.

Mr. Hawkins says that before the world can build artificial intelligence, it must explain human intelligence so it can create machines that genuinely work like the brain. “You do not have to emulate the entire brain,” he said. “But you do have to understand how the brain works and emulate the important parts.”


Now, after more than a decade of quiet work at Numenta, he thinks he and a handful of researchers working with him are well on their way to cracking the problem. On Monday, at a conference in the Netherlands, he is expected to unveil their latest research, which he says explains the inner workings of cortical columns, a basic building block of brain function.

Numenta’s research is apparently so complex that Alphabet’s artificial intelligence research company, DeepMind, told him they simply didn’t understand it. If this work, which I think is detailed in this scientific paper published over the weekend (but don’t quote me on it – it might be another paper altogether), is indeed the breakthrough neuroscience has been waiting for, it could have enormous consequences, not just for neuroscience and biology, but also for artificial intelligence and its applications in the world of computing.

I’m very curious to see if this research holds up to scientific scrutiny and peer review, because even the smallest of steps towards understanding how the brain works would be a massive scientific breakthrough.


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