"When you are born, you know nothing." This is the kind of statement you expect to hear from a philosophy professor, not a Silicon Valley executive with a new company to pitch and money to make. A tall, rangy man who is almost implausibly cheerful, Hawkins created the Palm and Treo handhelds and cofounded Palm Computing and Handspring. His is the consummate high tech success story, the brilliant, driven engineer who beat the critics to make it big. Now he's about to unveil his entrepreneurial third act: a company called Numenta. But what Hawkins, 49, really wants to talk about -- in fact, what he has really wanted to talk about for the past 30 years -- isn't gadgets or source codes or market niches.
Once you start poking around in the muck of consciousness studies, you will soon encounter the specter of Sir Roger Penrose, the renowned Oxford physicist with an audacious--and quite possibly crackpot--theory about the quantum origins of consciousness. He believes we must go beyond neuroscience and into the mysterious world of quantum mechanics to explain our rich mental life. No one quite knows what to make of this theory, developed with the American anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, but conventional wisdom goes something like this: Their theory is almost certainly wrong, but since Penrose is so brilliant ("One of the very few people I've met in my life who, without reservation, I call a genius," physicist Lee Smolin has said), we'd be foolish to dismiss their theory out of hand. Penrose, 85, is a mathematical physicist who made his name decades ago with groundbreaking work in general relativity and then, working with Stephen Hawking, helped conceptualize black holes and gravitational singularities, a point of infinite density out of which the universe may have formed. He also invented "twistor theory," a new way to connect quantum mechanics with the structure of spacetime. His discovery of certain geometric forms known as "Penrose tiles"--an ingenious design of non-repeating patterns--led to new directions of study in mathematics and crystallography. The breadth of Penrose's interests is extraordinary, which is evident in his recent book Fashion, Faith and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe--a dense 500-page tome that challenges some of the trendiest but still unproven theories in physics, from the multiple dimensions of string theory to cosmic inflation in the first moment of the Big Bang.
Less Hal and more Her, responding warmly to the feelings of others may no longer be a uniquely animal quality. Empathetic responses are being integrated into artificial intelligence and robotics, raising sticky ethical questions. The shift can be subtle or overt -- from emotionally appropriate gestures from your smartphone's voice assistant, to comforting robotics in clinical situations. For instance, Danielle Krettek, the founder of Google's Empathy Lab, said her work has contributed to some of the Google Assistant's apparent ability to attune to your mood. "When you say, 'I'm feeling depressed', instead of giving you a description of what depression is, it [might say], 'you know what, a lot of people feel that.
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is empowering people with physical disabilities, allowing them to take charge of their own lives but it's also having a surprising impact on people with neuro-diverse conditions like autism. It's easy to generalise about people on the autism spectrum; they like consistency, take things literally and like routine. They are built to provide consistency. They don't (yet) understand sarcasm and they like logic, a lot. But it's important to remember that although people on the autism spectrum will share certain difficulties, everyone's experience of the condition will be very different.
It's hard to discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace until you decide what AI is. Some academics tell us -- using lots of words -- that AI is computers that think, learn and ultimately act like humans while others hold that maximizing the interaction between computers and their humans -- such as in Human Computer Interaction or HCI -- qualifies as the closest thing to AI we are likely to see. Until you decide on which side of that dichotomy you fall, it's difficult to understand how, or if, AI contributes to business, and if so, how to improve its contributions. Our fascination with the idea of machines that think like humans goes back millennia, but it's only recently that it appears to potentially be in reach. And while AI research has uncovered some amazing technological capabilities, it has also run into a quagmire in its attempts to 1) agree on just what human intelligence is; and 2) the extent to which technology might be capable of replicating it.