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Letter From PC Forum

Palm Pioneer's Brainy Vision

By Leslie Walker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 21, 2005; 7:00 PM

SCOTTSALE, Ariz. -- The man who invented the PalmPilot and Handspring Treo is creating a new company to develop software that will mimic the mathematical patterns of the human brain.

Jeff Hawkins, best known as the founder of Palm Computing and Handspring Computing, entertained 400 attendees at the PC Forum technology conference here Monday with a 20-minute talk on how the human brain works. He concluded by announcing plans to form a new company to take some of his brain theories and discoveries to market.

Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Computing, plans to convert his studies of how the human brain works into new marketable technologies. (Leslie Walker - The Washington Post)

Hawkins currently runs the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, a nonprofit research facility in Menlo Park, Calif., that studies how humans think.

Hawkins said his team of researchers recently developed a software program that can recognize crude drawings of objects, even when they are slightly altered, using visual pattern recognition mathematical formulas that he believes are similar to those people use when they think.

Unlike humans, computers are notoriously lousy at visual recognition. Helping machines recognize visual patterns has long been regarded as one of the big challenges for artificial intelligence, Hawkins said.

Hawkins told the group he believes that all of human intelligence is basically about memory -- the neocortex of the brain has a built-in ability to recognize patterns of past experiences and use them to create models that predict the future.

"You are making predictions every moment of your waking life," he said.

Clapping his hands, Hawkins added: "Your brain saw my hands come together and had a visual prediction about what was going to happen. You did not expect my hands to pass through each other or turn into potatoes. You expected to hear a clap."

Human brains store sequences of events like melodies and recall them as "conditional probabilities," he said.

Hawkins's research institute recently developed a crude version of a software program that allows computers to recognize 90-line drawings resembling, say, a dog. Once the computer is exposed to one of the shapes, it can recognize that image again even if it is reversed so the dog faces right instead of left, he said.


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