Jeff Hawkins

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Jeff Hawkins
Jeff Hawkins by Jeff Kubina.jpeg
Hawkins at eTech 2007
Jeffrey Hawkins

(1957-07-01) July 1, 1957 (age 63)
Alma materCornell University
Known forCo-founder of Palm and Handspring

Jeffrey Hawkins (born July 1, 1957) is the American founder of Palm Computing and Handspring where he invented the PalmPilot and Treo, respectively.[1][2] He has since turned to work on neuroscience full-time, founding the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience (formerly the Redwood Neuroscience Institute) in 2002 and Numenta in 2005. Hawkins is currently Chief Scientist at Numenta, where he leads a team in efforts to reverse-engineer the neocortex and enable machine intelligence technology based on brain theory.[3] Hawkins is the author of On Intelligence which explains his memory-prediction framework theory of the brain. In March 2021, he released his second book, A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, which details the discoveries he and the Numenta team made that led to the Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence. [4]

In 2003, Hawkins was elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering "for the creation of the hand-held computing paradigm and the creation of the first commercially successful example of a hand-held computing device." He also serves on the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America where he has advised on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.[5]

Early life[edit]

Hawkins grew up in an inventive family on the north shore of Long Island, who developed a floating air cushion platform that was used for waterfront concerts.[6]

He attended Cornell University, where he received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1979.[6]


Hawkins moved to GRiD Systems in 1982, where he developed rapid application development (RAD) software called GRiDtask.[7]

Hawkins' interest in pattern recognition for speech and text input to computers led him to enroll in the biophysics program at the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. While there he patented a "pattern classifier" for handwritten text, but his PhD proposal was rejected, apparently because none of the professors there were working in that field. The setback led him back to GRiD, where, as vice president of research, he developed their pen-based computing initiative that in 1989 spawned the GRiDPad, one of the first tablet computers.[8]

Palm and Handspring[edit]

Hawkins founded Palm Inc., in January 1992. Their first product was the Zoomer, a collaboration with Palm applications, GeoWorks OS, Casio hardware, and Tandy marketing. The Apple Newton came out about the same time, late 1993, but both products failed, partly due to poor character recognition software. Hawkins responded with Graffiti, a simpler and more effective recognition product that ran on both the Zoomer and the Newton. They also developed HotSync synchronization software.[9]

Hawkins left the company along with Palm co-founders Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan to start Handspring, which debuted the Handspring Visor in September 1999. 3Com ended up spinning off Palm in March 2000, which then merged in a reconfluence with Handspring in August 2003.[9][10]


In March 2005, Hawkins, together with Dubinsky (Palm's original CEO) and Dileep George, founded Numenta, Inc.[11]

The company says that its biologically inspired machine learning technology is based on a theory of the neocortex first described in co-founder Hawkins' book, On Intelligence. Numenta is a technology provider and does not create go-to-market solutions for specific use cases. They license their technology and intellectual property for commercial purposes. In addition, Numenta has created NuPIC (Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing) as an open source project.[12]


After graduating from Cornell in June 1979, he read a special issue of Scientific American on the brain in which Francis Crick lamented the lack of a grand theory explaining how the brain functions. Initially, Hawkins attempted to join the MIT AI Lab but was refused.[13][14]

In 2002, after two decades of finding little interest from neuroscience institutions, Hawkins founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute in Menlo Park, California. As a result of the formation of Hawkins' new company, Numenta, the Institute was moved to the University of California, Berkeley on July 1, 2005, renamed the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, and is now administered through the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.[15]

In 2004, Hawkins published On Intelligence (with The New York Times science writer Sandra Blakeslee), laying out his "memory-prediction framework" of how the brain works.[11][16] The memory-prediction framework encompasses a number of methods that the brain uses to classify input and recognize patterns. Hawkins' theory suggests an "unsupervised learning system" where accurate modelling is the only goal.[17]

One area of interest to Hawkins is cortical columns. These are structures in the neocortex where it is believed the brain creates and stores models of objects in the environment that it encounters. Hawkins theorizes that movement (ie, not just sensory input, but also information regarding the object's location and how we experience it over time) is a key component to the functions of cortical columns. He believes this component will be important to consider in future AI development.[18]

In 2016, Hawkins hypothesized that cortical columns did not just capture a sensation, but also the relative location of that sensation, in three dimensions rather than two (situated capture), in relation to what was around it. Hawkins explains, "When the brain builds a model of the world, everything has a location relative to everything else".[19]

In 2018, Hawkins proposed The Thousand Brains Theory of Intelligence, a new framework for intelligence and cortical computation.[20]

In 2019 at CSICon conference—Hawkins spoke about basic and applied research and explained "We are beginning to find that there are diverse columns in the neocortex, with most columns getting their input from other columns, not direct sensory input".[21]

In 2021, Hawkins published A Thousand Brains. The book details the advances he and the Numenta team made that led to the ground-breaking discovery of how the brain understands the world and what it means to be intelligent. The book also details how the Thousand Brains Theory can impact the future of machine intelligence and what an understanding of the brain says about the threats and opportunities facing humanity.[22] In summary, it offers a theory of what's missing in current AI.[23]


  • Hawkins, Jeff with Sandra Blakeslee (2004). On Intelligence, Times Books, Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-7456-2.
  • Hawkins, Jeff (2021). A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, Basic Books. ISBN 1-5416-7581-9.


  1. ^ Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence, p.28
  2. ^ Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence, p.1
  3. ^ "Amazon Authors Biography". Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  4. ^ "A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins". July 28, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  5. ^ "Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Biography". Retrieved July 20, 2011.
  6. ^ a b Barnett, Shawn. "Jeff Hawkins The man who almost single-handedly revived the handheld computer industry". Pen Computing. Pen Computing. Archived from the original on December 10, 2012. Retrieved April 23, 2019.
  7. ^ Holwerda, Thom. "Apple's iPad 2: Conservative, Inconsistent, but I'm Loving it – Tablets: a short history (2/2)". OSnews. Retrieved October 9, 2016.
  8. ^ Pen Computing Jeff Hawkins 2
  9. ^ a b Pen Computing Jeff Hawkins 3
  10. ^ New York Times (Oct 14, 2018) Jeff Hawkins is finally ready to explain his brain research
  11. ^ a b Markoff, John (March 24, 2005). "A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence". New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
  12. ^ "Company". Archived from the original on April 6, 2014. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
  13. ^ F H C Crick, Thinking about the Brain. Scientific American 1979, 241,3:181–188
  14. ^ Hawkins, Jeff (February 2003). Jeff Hawkins: How brain science will change computing (Speech). TED 2003. Retrieved May 9, 2014.
  15. ^ Berkeley Neuroscience (31 January 2018) Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience unveils new website
  16. ^ "On Intelligence (Book) by Jeff Hawkins". Numenta. Archived from the original on May 9, 2019. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  17. ^ Rawlinson, David; Kowadlo, Gideon (2012). "Generating Adaptive Behaviour within a Memory-Prediction Framework". PLOS ONE. 7 (1): e29264. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...729264R. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029264. PMC 3260147. PMID 22272231.
  18. ^ Monroe, Brian. "Is artificial intelligence intelligent? How machine learning has developed". Washington Post. Archived from the original on May 19, 2019. Retrieved May 19, 2019.
  19. ^ Cade Metz The New York Times (15 October 2018) "A new view of how we think" pp.B1,B4 see: 'Clarity Over a Coffee Cup'
  20. ^ "Numenta Introduces Breakthrough Theory for Intelligence and Cortical Computation". Business Wire. October 15, 2018. Retrieved November 15, 2020.
  21. ^ Frazier, Kendrick (2020). "From Fantasyland America to the Fabric of Space and Time". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquirer. 44 (2): 8–17. We are beginning to understand how this model works. ... I have a dream that every kid in high schools is taught about how our brains work and how they can be wrong ... the course could be called 'The Science of Belief'
  22. ^ "A Thousand Brains, a new book by Jeff Hawkins, introduces a novel theory of intelligence with implications for AI and for the future of humanity". March 2, 2021. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  23. ^ Cooley, Brian. "A new way to move artificial intelligence forward". CNET. Retrieved March 22, 2021.

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