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A THOUSAND BRAINS

A NEW THEORY OF INTELLIGENCE

Insightful stuff for readers immersed in the labyrinthine world of neuroscience.

How a collection of identical cells takes in information and generates intelligence.

Entrepreneur and computer engineer Hawkins’ enthusiasm comes through in TED talks and an earlier bestseller (On Intelligence, 2004), and neuroscientists take him seriously—though readers new to the subject may have a more difficult time digesting the complex information. The author focuses on the neocortex. Only mammals have one, but all animals possess a deeper “reptilian” brain designed to ensure survival and reproduction. The neocortex allows humans to “devote our lives to philosophy, mathematics, poetry, astrophysics, music, geology, or the warmth of human love, in defiance of the old brain’s genetic urging” that we should be spending time “fighting rivals and pursuing multiple sexual partners.” Hawkins adds that all thoughts and actions result from activity and the connections among neurons. Every element of intelligence—seeing, touching, language, thought—is fundamentally the same. The author’s intriguing thousand brains theory maintains that identical structures called “reference frames” occur throughout the neocortex. All take in sensory information “to model everything we know, not just physical objects,” and “all knowledge is stored at locations relative to reference frames.” Nothing enters our skull but electrical spikes, so this model is a simulation. It’s usually accurate, but humans perceive lots of nonsense and false beliefs, which have become threats to our long-term survival. Modern life remains a battle between the neocortex (knowledge) and the old brain (competition, survival). Usefully, Hawkins then applies his theory to machine intelligence. Computers store knowledge but lack reference frames and the ability to model: “Nothing we call AI today is intelligent.” Humans are intelligent because we can learn to do practically anything. Computers do one thing, although they do it far better than humans. There is no “deep learning,” only access to immense amounts of data, and future intelligent machines will be more like humans, and “success…could be a machine that has the abilities of a five-year-old child.” Richard Dawkins provides the foreword.

Insightful stuff for readers immersed in the labyrinthine world of neuroscience.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-7581-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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