Jeff Hawkins

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Jeff Hawkins
Jeff Hawkins by Jeff Kubina.jpeg
Hawkins at eTech 2007
Born Jeffrey Hawkins
(1957-06-01) June 1, 1957 (age 64)
Huntington, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Cornell University
Occupation Businessperson
Known for Co-founder of Palm and Handspring

Jeffrey Hawkins (/ˈhɔːkɪnz/; born June 1, 1957) is the American founder of Palm Computing (where he invented the Palm Pilot)[1] and Handspring (where he invented the Treo).[2] He has since turned to work on neuroscience full-time, founded the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience (formerly the Redwood Neuroscience Institute) in 2002, founded Numenta in 2005 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 also serves on the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America and offers advice to the coalition on the acceptance and inclusion of nontheism in American life.[3]

Early life and career

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-held device, 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 USRobotics 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.[4] The company is based in Redwood City, California. Their 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 three major algorithmic frameworks: Hierarchical temporal memory, Fixed-sparsity Distributed Representations and Cortical Learning Algorithm. The frameworks can find patterns in noisy data, model the latent causes, and make predictions about what patterns will come next.

Numenta builds solutions that help companies automatically and intelligently act on machine generated data. The company claims that its biologically inspired machine learning technology is based on a theory of the neocortex first described in co-founder Jeff Hawkins’ book, On Intelligence. Grok, its first commercial product, is an anomaly detection system for IT Analytics. In addition, Numenta has created NuPIC (Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing) as an open source project.[5]


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.[6][7] 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 July 1, 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 The 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.[original research?][citation needed] He argues that attempts to create an artificial intelligence by simply programming a computer to do what a brain can do 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.


  1. Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence, p.28
  2. Jeff Hawkins, On Intelligence, p.1
  3. "Secular Coalition for America Advisory Board Biography". Retrieved July 20, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Markoff, John (March 24, 2005). "A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence". New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Company". Retrieved April 9, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. F H C Crick, Thinking about the Brain. Scientific American 1979, 241,3:181-188
  7. Hawkins, Jeff (February 2003). Jeff Hawkins: How brain science will change computing (Speech). TED 2003. Retrieved May 9, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


External links