Thursday, February 03, 2005

On Intelligence - (What? You need a subtitle or something?)

Speaking of outsiders making a contribution to a field, I can strongly recommend the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins with Sandra Blakeslee. Hawkins is not a neurologist but he is well read in the field and has a background in artificial intelligence (inventor of the Palm pilot. He has also drawn praise from experts in the neuroscience and medical disciplines. He has put forward a simple yet profound theoretical model of intelligence and how it emerges from the neocortex. Even if this theory is faulty (which I really don't think it is since it is based so firmly on observable fact) the book offers a well written description of current knowledge and observations of the neo-cortex as well as a history of the field of artificial intelligence and his explanation of why he feels that a new model is needed.

A recent article in New Scientist about a man who was blind all his life and learned to draw was quite relevant in light of Hawkins' model (at least to my first reading). The gentleman seems to be using his visual cortex to create a prediction model of what he wishes to draw which is so strong it looks more like 'seeing' on an MRI scan than the imagining that most people do. It lends weight to the idea that the entire cortex is doing the same sort of thing and that the difference from one region to the next is a reflection of the input and connections rather than a fundamental difference between a sensory region and the motor cortex for example.

Whether his theoretical framework will prove to be the fundamental shift in thinking that both neurology and A.I. need to move forward will remain to be seen but I highly recommend this book. It is a quality work on many levels.

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