Truly Intelligent Machines

The definition of artificial intelligence can be vague. Sometimes it seems to be just brute force number crunching. There, more and more computing power is used to create a behavior that seems to show intelligence. But if we look behind the scenes of Deep Blue and other supercomputers that master games like chess or go, these are special cases where knowledge is optimized in a clearly defined area.

Human intelligence is much more creative and adaptable. It is prepared for every eventuality in our lives, much more than any computer.

And this is exactly where the 15-year-old classic by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee comes in: “On Intelligence” is a book in which we learn in great detail how the human brain works, how the neocortex is structured, how we use it to remember things, and how we make decisions. And it is precisely this biological template that the authors use to give us clues as to how to build truly intelligent computers.

A colleague and friend recommended this book to me, and I can only pass on this recommendation. Even if the predictions of 15 years ago did not really come true, it is still an enlightening reading.

“The most powerful things are simple,” Jeff writes in the prologue. He’s right, you might just think of the iPhone. So this book presents a simple and straightforward theory of intelligence. It is very profound when the individual cells and cell regions in the brain are explained how they interact and how information is stored and retrieved. Yes, you should concentrate while reading, but is it also understandable for non-neuro-scientists.

Now, if a machine uses this behaviour of the human brain, then it is really intelligent. Jeff assumes in this book that in 10 years (that would be 2015) such intelligent machines will exist. But in the next sentence he gets more cautious because it might take longer.

Jeff calls for the construction of such machines, which have the human neocortex of the brain as a model. In the book there are some examples, e.g. how such machines communicate and capture the world’s weather in a level of detail that seems impossible today. Do we really want that? I’m not sure that’s a good idea. And I haven’t heard anything more about such machines.

Anyway, I recommend the book “On Intelligence” to anyone interested in intelligent computers. You’ll have more respect for your brain after reading it.

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