The research company co-founded by Jeff Hawkins is keen to understand how the neocortex works, applying it to improve artificial intelligence.

Jeff Hawkins’ 2021 book A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, focuses on the neocortex and how it helps us to understand the world around us, before examining the future of artificial intelligence, based on what we already know about the brain.

In this final episode of Tales from the Synapse, a 12-part podcast series about neuroscience, Hawkins describes how his book finishes on a philosophical note, by covering the future of humanity in an age of intelligent machines.

Hawkins is chief scientist at Numenta, a research company he started 17 years ago in Redwood City, California. He career started in the semiconductor industry but his interest in the theories underpinning brain science was triggered by a 1979 article in Scientific American, written by Francis Crick.

“I realized that I don’t think there’s anything more interesting or important to work on, because every human endeavour is based on the brain. Everything we have ever done in the arts and the sciences, and literature and humanities and politics. It’s all brains,” he says.

Hawkins’ search for an academic career in theoretical brain science proved fruitless, prompting a return to industry and the founding of both Palm Computing and Handspring. In 2002 he established the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, now based at the University of California Berkeley.

Tales from the Synapse is produced in partnership with Nature Neuroscience and introduced by Jean Mary Zarate, a senior editor at the journal. The series features brain scientists from all over the world who talk about their career journeys, collaborations and the societal impact of their research.