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.