Jeff Hawkins is starting a new company, Numenta, to apply insights from neuroscience into developing better artificial intelligence. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this company as we get more details on what kind of AI applications they will be targeting. Undoubtedly, some of Jeff’s ideas in On Intelligence will probably be a large part of it.
Read on for the NY Times article by Markoff…
March 24, 2005
A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence
By JOHN MARKOFF
SAN FRANCISCO, March 23 – The technologist and the marketing executive who co-founded Palm Computing in 1992 are starting a new company that plans to license software technologies based on a novel theory of how the mind works.
Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky will remain involved with what is now called PalmOne, but on Thursday they plan to announce the creation of Numenta, a technology development firm that will conduct research in an effort to extend Mr. Hawkins’s theories. Those ideas were initially sketched out last year in his book “On Intelligence: How a New Understanding of the Brain Will Lead to the Creation of Truly Intelligent Machines,” co-written with Sandra Blakeslee, who also writes for The New York Times.
Dileep George, a Stanford University graduate student who has worked with Mr. Hawkins in translating his theory into software, is joining the firm as a co-founder.
Mr. Hawkins has long been interested in research in the field of intelligence, and in 2002 he founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute. He now spends part of his time there while continuing to serve as chief technology officer of PalmOne.
Artificial intelligence, which first attracted computer scientists in the 1960’s, was commercialized in the 1970’s and 1980’s in products like software that mimicked the thought process of a human expert in a particular field. But the initial excitement about machines that could see, hear and reason gave way to disappointment in the mid-1980’s, when artificial intelligence technology became widely viewed as a failure in the real world.
In recent years, vision and listening systems have made steady progress, and Mr. Hawkins said that while he was uncomfortable with the term artificial intelligence, he believed that a renaissance in intelligent systems was possible.
He said that he believed there would soon be a new wave of software based on new theoretical understanding of the brain’s operations.
“Once you know how the brain works, you can describe it with math,” he said.
Mr. Hawkins acknowledged, however, that full-scale applications of his theoretical approach had not yet been developed or proved . Mr. Hawkins is now demonstrating a pattern-recognition application using a version of his software. It allows a computer to correctly identify a line drawing of a dog from many different patterns. Commercial uses for the technology might include speech recognition for telephone customer service or vision systems for quality control in factories.
Initially, the company will offer free licenses to the Numenta software to permit experimentation and help build a research community to develop the technology, Ms. Dubinsky said.
Neuroscience researchers said Mr. Hawkins’s theories were promising but still unproved.
“Jeff is doing interesting work, and he may well recharge the field, whether or not his particular algorithms play out,” said Gary Bradski, a neuroscientist who manages the machine learning group at the Intel Corporation. “He’s had good instincts on his last two ventures.”
Mr. Hawkins and Ms. Dubinsky left Palm Computing in 1998 to form Handspring. They then returned to Palm in 2003 when it acquired Handspring in an effort to speed its entry into the market for smart phones. Ms. Dubinsky is currently a PalmOne board member.
Mr. Hawkins said that in addition to his work with Numenta he was developing a new product for PalmOne.