๐Ÿ“– A review of A thousand brains by Jeff Hawkins

Brains and nervous systems are the most exciting and truly weird topics to discover.

They can be approached through neuroscience, ethology, psychology, cognitive science, arts, brain-inspired computing, and bio-inspired robotics.

Or, even in some other ways. Easy, because our own brain and CNS is involved in all our perception and acquisition of knowledge. It is involved in everything we are and do. It is us, and it is bodily (somatic) all the way down. This is called embodiment.

If the 20th century has seen the emergence of non-classical theory in physics, it has also seen the beginnings of non-classical theory in, ultimately, biology. Biology as the basis and substrate of the majority of intelligent behavior we are observing, anywhere.

Anyway, bla bla. Just finished reading โ€œA thousand brainsโ€ by Jeff Hawkins, who you might know from Numenta, their papers, or from the earlier book โ€œA new kind of intelligenceโ€, which I havenโ€™t read.

The work presented and discussed in the book is about the human neocortex, its computational mechanics, and its principles of organization.

What the brain does, in general, is to create models of the world, which it then uses to make predictions and find ways (sequences of actions) to get to goals (usually related to survival, in the broad sense of the complicated lifeโ€™s of contemporary humans). This is called inverting a model.

In the book, the idea that these internal models donโ€™t come in singular, but rather in a massively large bundle, a huge flock of models, is expounded and illustrated in clear and fun prose, including some pictures.

One of the weirdest things about the brain is the modelling decomposition. Sorry. I just love that word so much.

What is decomposition? I donโ€™t mean the degenerative one. It is meant in the mathematical sense of decomposing something complex into a set of simpler things, together with an explanation of their interactions, so that the overall story will yield the original phenomenon.

Most of us will have an acquired and consciously accessible decomposition of the world in our heads, called a mindset. Usually thatโ€™s objects, persons, domains; interactions come via force and gravity, light, sound and touch, inner focus and sociality, etc;

So the cool thing that the brain does, is a) to decompose the world into a soup of models, and b), that this decomposition is mostly and unconsciously completely different and utterly alien to our own introspective thinking. It just doesnโ€™t align. No, it doesnโ€™t. The objects of conscious introspective thought are just the tip of the iceberg, of all unconscious mental and neural activity, not available to introspection.

One of the reasons that this is so is somatics, properties of a physical body that needs to compute in a physical universe, governed by energy equations, metabolics, and distribution networks. Limitation as a resource. Work that.

The story of the relationship between the subjective introspection experience of feeling and living, and objective neural mechanics is one of the most pressing issues in science communication.

Why? Because understanding our own behavior and decision mechanics is essential for our civilization to survive the 21st century. Period.

Hawkinsโ€™ book throws a lot of stepping stones out into our path through a foggy toxic lava swamp. Highly appreciated and recommended.

Go check on book home

Posted originally on dynatropes – mission log from climbing mount improbable. where you at?

Taking the A out of AI

Taking the A out of AI means to think more about natural intelligence and what might be natural to a robot. Yes, Embodiment, comes screaming from the backrows. So what is embodiment and why is it important?

As is well known the symbolic approach to AI is interesting but incomplete with regard to real world intelligence. Traversing a doorstep or a flipped carpet edge, picking up a slippery piece of food or crumbs from the floor. Unsolved, all of it. So don’t tell me about autonomous cars and healthcare robots.

At Jetpack we are working to realize the transfer from research insights of our discipline, developmental robotics, into society with consumer products. Our robots. What needs to be addressed first for sustainable robotics in the 21st century is the sensorimotor gap that is present in all AI-branded products out there. It may look small and insignificant but do not let yourself be fooled. This is the layer that connects the silicon brain with outside world and contrary to the common belief, this layer is not trivial to navigate, sensation and perception is extremely noisy, incomplete and contradictory. But it can be done. This is called embodied intelligence and the adaptive sensorimotor layer provides a natural grounding for any embodied intelligence.

Jetpack – pet-like robots that react to touch. Because people are at the center of our approach, our mindset, and our world view. Cheers.