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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 169

Jeff Hawkins — A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence (book cover)

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 maplike 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.

Jeff Hawkins is the cofounder of Numenta, a neuroscience research company; founder of the Redwood Neuroscience Institute; and one of the founders of the field of handheld computing. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and author of On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines.

Shermer and Hawkins discuss:

  • What is intelligence?
  • What is consciousness?
  • All thoughts, ideas, and perceptions are the activity of neurons.
  • Everything we know is stored in the connections between neurons.
  • the neocortex as the key to higher intelligence,
  • cortical columns as the key to reference frames that lead to intelligence,
  • motor cortex, sensory cortex, and sensory-motor learning,
  • Vernon Mountcastle’s Big Idea,
  • why the old reptilian brain is heterogenous whereas the new brain is homogeneous,
  • Jeff Hawkins Big Idea: There is no central control room in our brains; instead, our perception is a consensus which the columns reach by voting. Within the columns — even within neurons — predictions are made, and depending how successful their predictions are, the neurons will vote for their version of events,
  • maps and models in your head,
  • predictive models of the world,
  • dendritic spikes as predictions,
  • species specific perception,
  • veridical perception vs. survival perception,
  • metaphors of how the brain works: a clockwork machine, pneumatic or hydraulic devices, cavities through which animal spirits flowed, electrical device, nerves as telegraph wires, cybernetics, computers, etc.,
  • Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 (Thinking, Fast and Slow),
  • Can immortality be achieved through mind uploading?
  • AI/AGI: Does Big Blue know it beat Gary Kasparov in Chess? Does Watson know it won Jeopardy?
  • SETI and the nature of alien intelligence, and
  • colonizing the galaxy with our intelligence.

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This episode is sponsored by:

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This episode was released on April 3, 2021.

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