A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins

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This is another book I picked up while Audible was having a five dollar sale and I picked up an unwise number of audiobooks that just sat there forever.

Well, there’s a Richard Dawkins forward. That guy is controversial and for good reason. Brilliant? Yes. Douche canoe? Also, yes. Thankfully, he didn’t co-write the whole book and he only narrates his forward. I was also dubious of someone who would choose to have Dawkins as the person to write their forward — but I thought hey, he’s a big name and would help sales. Maybe it’ll be all right.

This title self-advertises as a revolutionary work that will bring brand new ideas to the prior known models of intelligence. Dawkins promised that I would not be able to sleep if I read it at night because the ideas are so ground breaking. Honestly, much of what’s in this seems like a lot of common sense stuff I had already thought about in the past. Albeit, this book has a clarity and understanding backed up with research papers and a PhD, so the ideas are much more realized and thorough than what I was learning getting an undergrad degree. There’s something called Society of Mind that I’ve already read, that covers much of the same topics and explores very similar ideas as this book.

My other issue with this book is that it asserts his opinions as facts far too frequently. He’s very open about this, particularly when he’s talking about artificial intelligence and what would or would not happen if we built AI’s. He’s absolutely certain that unless we program an AI to have a fear of death they won’t mind being turned off. That they will never have any desires to harm anyone. That they will never have feelings since all of our feelings are based in a more primal area of the brain that we can choose not to replicate in an AI’s intelligence. And like, maybe he’s right. I do get the argument and it does make sense. It does make sense that the desire to live and the fear of death is rooted in our reptilian parts of the brain and that an AI may have no fear of being shut down. However, we really don’t know how the brain works. He states this in the beginning of the book that no one really has figured it out, that the more we learn the further we are from a working model of the brain…. but then he’s so certain about other things that they seem like incompatible messages. Just because we think that the amygdala and other more ancient areas of the brain are solely responsible for the fears of dying and the desires to stay a part of the world doesn’t mean it’s the only place in the brain that sparks those desires and fears. We don’t know yet. In science it’s considered bad form to say something is 100% certain, and yet the author does this several times with vague explanations as to why he’s right.

I have to say this is a very accessible book. He explicitly states he wrote this for the layperson who is intellectually curious and I do think that goal was met. The writing itself was decent, I wouldn’t call this dry or boring — lol just frustrating for me, personally. broken into three parts, with an author who actively says he’s trying to make this book able to be understood by those not versed in the subject.

This guy is smarter than I ever will be. He’s more accomplished than most of humanity. He has a better understanding of AI than most people ever will. He’s got a crazy amount of degrees and education that I can’t hope to match. My soured experience with this book was the tone and the assertions of his opinions as facts.


  • Non-biased presentation of fact: 10/25
  • easily accessible topics and ease of read: 18/25
  • Prose/entertainment level: 14/25
  • Overall Enjoyment: 12.5/25

Final Score: 54.5/100 or 2.5/5 stars on GR.