March 24, 2005

Hawkins “spins out” Redwood Inst. as Numenta

Innovation By: ams

Jeff Hawkins, as most of the digerati knows, has been developing his theory of human intelligence for a while now, and recently founded a non-profit research institute to pursue it with visiting researchers and sponsored graduate students. Redwood, in the Kepler’s Books building in Menlo Park, appears to remain quite separate from this venture, but the spinoff theme seems quite appropriate.

In related WSJ coverage, they report that Bruce Dunlevie of Benchmark, a past backer, and Harry Saal, a past CommerceNet supporter, are on their board — less for the money, as one might imagine with Hawkins and Dubinsky involved, than for the connections and business development challenges that await them. I suspect they’re on the right track to conceive of this as a platform play that needs open developer support first and foremost. Good luck!

A New Company to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

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.

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