Jeffrey Hawkins (born June 1, 1957, in Huntington, New York) is the founder of Palm Computing (where he invented the Palm Pilot) and Handspring (where he invented the Treo). He has since turned to work on neuroscience full-time, founded the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience (formerly the Redwood Neuroscience Institute) in 2002, and published On Intelligence describing his memory-prediction framework theory of the brain. In 2003 he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Engineering "for the creation of the hand-held computing paradigm and the creation of the first commercially successful example of a hand-held computing device."
Hawkins grew up with an inventive family on the north shore of Long Island. They developed a floating air cushion platform that was used for waterfront concerts. He attended Cornell University, where he received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1979. He went to work for Intel, and then moved to GRiD Systems in 1982 where he developed Rapid Application Development (RAD) software. Hawkins' interest in pattern recognition for speech and text input to computers led him to enroll in the biophysics program at the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. While there he patented a "pattern classifier" for hand written text, but his PhD proposal was rejected, apparently because none of the professors there were working in that field. The setback led him back to GRiD, where, as vice president of research, he developed their pen-based computing initiative that in 1989 spawned the GRiDPad, one of the first tablet computers.
Hawkins desired to move on with the development of a smaller, hand-helddevice, but executives at GRiD were reluctant to take the risk. Tandy Corporation had acquired GRiD in 1988, and they were willing to support Hawkins in a new venture company. Palm Computing was founded in January, 1992. Their first product was the Zoomer, a collaboration with Palm applications, GeoWorks OS, Casio hardware, and Tandy marketing. The Apple Newton came out about the same time, late 1993, but both products failed, partly due to poor character recognition software. Hawkins responded with Graffiti, a simpler and more effective recognition product that ran on both the Zoomer and the Newton. They also developed HotSync synchronization software for Hewlett Packard devices.
Hawkins searched for partners to build a simple new handheld, but was stymied until modem manufacturer U.S. Robotics stepped in with the financial backing and manufacturing expertise to bring the Palm Pilot to market in early 1996. By the fall of 1998, US Robotics' new owner, 3Com, was hindering his plans, and Hawkins left the company along with Palm co-founders Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan to start Handspring, which debuted the Handspring Visor in September 1999. 3Com ended up spinning off Palm in March, 2000, which then merged with Handspring in August, 2003.
In March 2005, Jeff Hawkins, together with Donna Dubinsky (Palm's original CEO) and Dileep George, founded Numenta, Inc. The company's goal is to simultaneously create a theory of how the brain works, and a computer algorithm to implement this theory.
They have been using biological information about the structure of the neocortex to guide the development of their theory on how the brain works. So far, they have come up with two major algorithmic frameworks: Hierarchical Temporal Memory and Fixed-sparsity Distributed Representations. The frameworks can find patterns in noisy data, model the latent causes, and make predictions about what patterns will come next.
The company is headquartered in Redwood City, California.
After graduating from Cornell in June 1979, he read a special issue of Scientific American on the brain in which Francis Crick lamented the lack of a grand theory explaining how the brain functions. Initially, Hawkins attempted to start a new department on the subject at his employer Intel, but was refused. He also unsuccessfully attempted to join the MIT AI Lab. He eventually decided he would try to find success in the computer industry and then try to use it to support his serious work on brains, as described in his book On Intelligence.
In 2002, after two decades of finding little interest from neuroscience institutions, Hawkins founded the Redwood Neuroscience Institute in Menlo Park, California. As a result of the formation of Hawkins' new company, Numenta, the Institute was moved to the University of California, Berkeley on 1 July 2005, renamed the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, and is now administered through the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.
In 2004, Hawkins published On Intelligence (with New York Times science writer Sandra Blakeslee), laying out his "memory-prediction framework" of how the brain works. His unified theory of the brain argues that the key to the brain and intelligence is the ability to make predictions about the world by seeing patterns. (cf. Franz Brentano's theory of intentionality, published in 1874) He argues that attempts to create an artificial intelligence by simply programming a computer to do what a brain does are flawed and that to actually make an intelligent computer, we simply need to teach it to find and use patterns, not to attempt any specific tasks. Through this method, he thinks we can build intelligent machines, helping us do all sorts of useful tasks that current computers cannot achieve. He further argues that this memory-prediction system as implemented by the brain's cortex is the basis of human intelligence.