A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence

1st July 2021

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Book of the Month

A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence, by Jeff Hawkins. Hawkins is a neuroscientist as well as one of the most successful and highly regarded computer architects in Silicon Valley. Some of his scientific papers have become the most downloaded and cited papers in their journals. 

A Thousand Brains is one of the most intriguing books we’ve ever read about the brain—Hawkins takes an utterly novel approach to understanding how the brain works.  As he notes: 

“People often say the brain is the most complicated thing in the universe. They conclude from this that there will not be a simple explanation for how it works, or that perhaps we will never understand it. The history of scientific discovery suggests they are wrong. Major discoveries are almost always preceded by bewildering, complex observations. With the correct theoretical framework, the complexity does not disappear, but it no longer seems confusing or daunting. A familiar example is the movement of the planets. For thousands of years, astronomers carefully tracked the motion of the planets among the stars. The path of a planet over the course of a year is complex, darting this way and that, making loops in the sky. It was hard to imagine an explanation for these wild movements. Today, every child learns the basic idea that the planets orbit the Sun… Similarly, I always believed that the neocortex appeared complicated largely because we didn’t understand it, and that it would appear relatively simple in hindsight. Once we knew the solution, we would look back and say, ‘Oh, of course, why didn’t we think of that?’” 

Hawkin’s book proceeds to lay out precisely those relatively straightforward ideas—often arising from his group’s research—that make the brain much easier to understand.  He also makes a prescient case for why artificial intelligence will advance only by copying the approaches used by the human brain.  Highly recommended for brain buffs and those interested in artificial intelligence.

Barb Makes List of 35 Most Influential Women in Engineering

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day 2021, AcademicInfluence.com has spotlighted 35 women who are making their impact felt in every area of the engineering field…. They are at the top of the engineering field today, as leaders and innovators; transforming the profession and inspiring future engineering students. Check out the development here!

Planning This Year’s Professional Development?

Planning a day of professional development for teachers or instructors?  Want to ensure your university or school district is up-to-date in its approach to teaching?  Barb has a few days available in August and early September to share practical insights on teaching and learning based on the critically acclaimed Uncommon Sense Teaching and her other works. Reach out here if you or your institution is interested in a keynote or workshop, either online or face-to-face.

Want kids to learn math? Level with them that it’s hard.

As mathematician Jordan Ellenberg observes in this preternaturally powerful article in the Washington Post, math is “only easy once you’ve mastered the concepts. Telling students otherwise can backfire… A school year unlike any other is coming to a close, but one thing remains the same: We’re still tussling, in the same old ways, over how math should be taught. More data science, less stuffy trigonometry? Students placed in separate classrooms by test scores or doing differentiated work in the same classroom? These questions are vexed, but I’ve got one suggestion for how we can improve. We can tell students that math is very, very hard….I was constantly telling students, at the outset of a computation, ‘Now this is pretty simple’ — encouraging them, or so I thought. My mentor, the master teacher Robin Gottlieb, now a professor at Harvard, set me straight. When we say a lesson is ‘easy’ or ‘simple,’ and it manifestly isn’t, we are telling students that the difficulty isn’t with the mathematics, it’s with them. And they will believe us. They won’t think, ‘I’ve been lied to,’ they’ll think, ‘I’m dumb and I should quit.’”

This is one of the best articles we’ve ever read about teaching math. Read the whole thing. [Hat tip: Guruprasad Madhavan.]  

Nelson’s Back from Everest!

Nelson Dellis, our favorite memory expert, is back from his latest attempt to scale Mount Everest–and he has a wonderful memory video to give you practice in memorizing, well, you’ll find out!  Don’t miss Nelson’s latest (literally) breathless adventures.  And don’t miss Nelson’s books!

The Future of MOOCs 

This outstanding article from Forbes describes Zvi Galil’s groundbreaking work involving low cost, high-quality graduate degrees: “One might assume that with that distinguished career Galil would regard the development of an online master’s program to be a bit anticlimactic. To the contrary, he believes OMSCS is the ‘biggest thing I’ve done in my life,’ pointing to the fact that OMSCS runs on a model that challenges the prevailing brand of most elite universities, who take pride in their selectivity and exclusiveness.

“OMSCS accepts all applicants who meet the program’s basic qualifications. So far, it’s accepted 74% of those who’ve applied. By contrast, the acceptance rate for Georgia Tech’s on-campus program is about 10%. Students from all 50 states and 124 countries have enrolled in the program, which earns rave reviews from its alumni.

“Affordability is key to the program’s popularity. OMSCS is the most affordable degree of its kind. Tuition runs just a bit over $7,000 for the entire program, about 10% of the cost of the average on-campus MS in computer science at private universities. As Galil says, ‘Our motto is accessibility through affordability and technology—we are making a Master’s degree in computer science available to thousands of students.’”

Thought for the Day

As Philippe de LaHarpe has relayed to us:  “Education is the place of delayed happiness.” 

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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