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A Thousand Brains cover art

A Thousand Brains

By: Jeff Hawkins,Richard Dawkins - foreword
Narrated by: Jamie Renell,Richard Dawkins
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Summary

A best-selling author, neuroscientist, and computer engineer unveils a theory of intelligence that will revolutionize our understanding of the brain and the future of AI. 

For all of neuroscience's advances, we've made little progress on its biggest question: How do simple cells in the brain create intelligence? Jeff Hawkins and his team discovered that the brain uses map-like structures to build a model of the world - not just one model, but hundreds of thousands of models of everything we know. This discovery allows Hawkins to answer important questions about how we perceive the world, why we have a sense of self, and the origin of high-level thought. A Thousand Brains heralds a revolution in the understanding of intelligence. It is a big-think book, in every sense of the word.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.  

©2021 Jeff Hawkins (P)2021 Basic Books

What listeners say about A Thousand Brains

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Short thesis with plenty of tangents

The first third was a neat little intro to neuroscience in general. Would have been nice for me to read it 10 years ago.

The actual thesis doesn't need a book though. One chapter would have been sufficient.

Half to two thirds of the book are a weird tangent on existential risk, machine intelligence and extraterrestrial search for life. I like those topics, but I did not expect the author to cover these topics. I don't see really why he thought it necessary to put them into this book.

What I found very disappointing is his argument on existential risk by AI. It's very handwavy saying it's no biggie. He is very confident of his rebuttal as he mentions again and again how he showed that there is no reason to worry about AGI. He does not bother to go into the common arguments of intelligence explosion and other concepts like e.g. the orthogonality thesis. The author seems very optimistic that an intelligent agent will have "reasonable" goals. The same is extrapolated to extraterrestrial life. Well, the confidence that he signaled made me doubt his other statements that he is so confident about.

A mixed big all in all. Not worth to read the book wrt the actual thesis. Nice intro to neuroscience if you need one. And regarding the future stuff on AI, etc., there are plenty of better books with more nuanced analyses.

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13 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

A great book for an AI and human cognition student

This book is a great read and/or listen and has spoken to me on three different fronts.

First and foremost, the content in this book is relevant to my field of study, Artificial Intelligence and Data with a focus on Human Cognition. Here I find especially the second part of this book both informative and intriguing.
The various suggestion laid out in this book, such as the implementation of a global grid with remotely connected intelligent agents for analyzation of various patterns such as weather prediction, will allow the engineering minded reader to really dream and mold over the prospects of such a future system.

Secondly the philosophical side of me finds the last chapters interesting. In these chapters Jeff Hawkins moves a bit away from the discoveries of his work and talks about various ifs, buts, when, how and whys of the future. I find that Mr. Hawkins here gives not only an educated and well thought out array of information, but also achieves what is often lost in these kinds of works, to make sure the reader understands that this is speculation on his part, speculation that he finds not only important for him to give to us, but also important that we, layman and expert alike, actively participate in.

Lastly, and honestly least of these three points, I find his reformulation of some of Richard Dawkins points about Memes rather well timed. While I factually agree with Dr. Dawkins points about how the spread of the religion meme acts, in many ways, as a virus. I find that his original formulation of the issue, can be considered somewhat of a rhetorical balance act, one where I find that the outcome in many situations can be negative. In this instance Mr. Hawkins strikes a nice middle ground by choosing his example and formulation more carefully. I’ll not delve into this, so as not to spoil the realization for other readers.

All in all, I really enjoyed the audio book, and look forward to receiving my hard copy in the coming days.
Jeff Hawkins has if not renewed then bolstered my interest in a field I already find very fascinating. Thank you for your work Mr. Hawkins.

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3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

3 sections - outstanding, fine, tedious

The first section is neuroscientific theory, presented in a way that's easy to follow and appreciate. Really excellent stuff, I fully understand why so many prominent scientists and casual readers praise Hawkins.
The second section is ok. That's unfair, the second section is good, but after the brilliance of the opening, there's a very high bar.
Sadly, the last section is opinionated guff presented as fact. Opinion is fine, but dodgy models are made out to be beyond dispute and the author ridicules anyone with a different view. And this section is massively self-contradictory.

My advice: enjoy the first section and go no further. You'll be left richer for the experience. If you venture all the way through, you may feel let down and cast greater doubt on the ideas which Jeff Hawkins conveys at the beginning, which would be a shame.

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2 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars

Recognise, Recognition

Second time I've reviewed this book / for some reason my first review wasn't published.
This is an extraordinarily boring read (so much repetition of the phrase 'Reference frames in cortical columns in the neo-cortex' you'll be dreaming it)

The most annoying thing is the words recognise / recognition don't appear anywhere in the text. The author blindly persues his blunt-axe theory where millions of 'reference frames' are searched to recognise a coffee cup in some kind of brute-force image match.
IMHO the brain is a biological computer which has been created to maximize the lifespan of the creature it occupies via utilization of the most frugal of resources (frugal manufacture and frugal maintenance/running costs) - Why would it waste space with millions of pictures of coffee cups when it can simply determine a cup is a cup from a couple of simple geometric angles and dimensions. Here's a comparison - Someone throws a tennis ball at you - Your brain instantly calculated where, and how quickly, in three dimensional space you have to put your hand to catch it using a couple of variables such as velocity and incoming arc. Your brain doesn't troll through a trillion images of balls flying through the air to find one exactly the same because there probably aren't any. Elegant problems require elegant solutions and this book doesn't provide anything elegant.

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1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Inspiring and extremely clear

Jeff Hawkins is such a clear and intelligible writer. His ideas are well explained, accessible, interesting and challenging. A truly inspiring read.

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Wildly speculative

The ideas at first are compelling, but you soon realise that Hawkins is drawing vast conclusions on the basis of very little evidence. It becomes pure speculation: more of an ad for his AI company than a book that will provide you with real insight into how the brain works. Hawkins tries to make you think he knows a lot more than he does.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not for me

...at least not in this format. I imagine the paperback has some very useful diagrams but it was a but much picturing cortical columns while you're driving! The content was generally interesting, I guess it's jarring if you're EITHER looking for neuroscience content OR AI content, but was fine for me. Skipped bits of the beginning because it got repetitive, preferred the last chapters on what intelligence means for humanity. Generally an OK book just wasn't for me.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Nice but a bit too specific about the brain

I'm more interested in ideas / conclusions than the actual specifics of how the brain works, so there were times that I wanted to skip ahead.
Overall, quite an interesting book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Compelling

One of the most important and inspiring books I've ever read. A compelling and clear explanation of the theory in part 1. A fascinating exposition of the neocortex as using one fundamental algorithm. Persuasive arguments in parts 2 and 3. Delivered by a talented narrator. Prompted me to buy the print version. 

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Good start, flabby middle, ultimately unsatisfying

The first third of the book is very interesting. The second veers off into preachy drivel about climate change and half-baked arguments about bad ideas full of straw man fallacies, projection, and non sequiturs. By the end of it the author just comes across as insufferable. The last third seems to be part of a different book. In the conclusion the author seems to be aware that his book’s a big mess.

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