Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, creators of the Palm and Handspring personal digital assistants and the Treo smartphone, have formed a software company built around a powerful and unorthodox vision of how the human brain works. In its early stages, they hope to create predictive machines useful for things like weather forecasting and oil exploration. Further out–much further, says Hawkins–they plan to lay the basis for cosmologically attuned robots that conceive and reflect on the universe itself.
Okay, it is a big idea. And so far the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company, called Numenta, has built what the creators say is a set of tools for creating pattern-recognition software capable of “learning” shapes and events, with a goal of foreseeing what the pattern will next create. Yet these tools draw on decades of work that Hawkins has done on how the brain works. If it pans out–and there is an attractive logic to much of his thinking–Numenta may certainly oversee the creation of embedded software that adapts and improves its own performance.