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Jeff Hawkins

Jeff Hawkins

American entrepreneur and neuroscientist; founder of Palm Computing
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American entrepreneur and neuroscientist; founder of Palm Computing
A.K.A. Jeffrey Hawkins
Countries United States of America
Occupations Businessperson Computer scientist Artificial intelligence researcher
Gender male
Birth 1 June 1957 (Huntington)
Star sign Gemini
Education Cornell University, University of California, Berkeley, Cornell University College of Engineering
The details

Jeffrey Hawkins (born June 1, 1957) is the American founder of Palm Computing (where he invented the PalmPilot) 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, 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.

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 (GRiDtask). 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 PalmPilot 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 is based in Redwood City, California. They have a dual mission: to reverse-engineer the neocortex and enable machine intelligence technology based on brain 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. They have come up with a machine intelligence technology called Hierarchical temporal memory (HTM). HTM can find patterns in noisy streaming data, model the latent causes, and make predictions about what patterns will come next.

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. Numenta is a technology provider and does not create go-to-market solutions for specific use cases. They license their technology and intellectual property for commercial purposes. In addition, Numenta has created NuPIC (Numenta Platform for Intelligent Computing) as an open source project.


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 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. 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.

In 2016 Jeff Hawkins hypothesized that cortical columns did not just capture a sensation, but also the relative location of that sensation, in three dimensions rather than two (situated capture), in relation to what was around it. "When the brain builds a model of the world, everything has a location relative to everything else" —Jeff Hawkins.


  • Hawkins, Jeff with Sandra Blakeslee (2005). On Intelligence, Times Books, Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 0-8050-7456-2.
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