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A Brief History of Intelligence: Evolution, AI, and the Five Breakthroughs That Made Our Brains (Paperback)

A Brief History of Intelligence: Evolution, AI, and the Five Breakthroughs That Made Our Brains By Max Bennett Cover Image
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Equal parts Sapiens, Behave, and Superintelligence, but wholly original in scope, A Brief History of Intelligence offers a paradigm shift for how we understand neuroscience and AI. Artificial intelligence entrepreneur Max Bennett chronicles the five “breakthroughs” in the evolution of human intelligence and reveals what brains of the past can tell us about the AI of tomorrow. 

In the last decade, capabilities of artificial intelligence that had long been the realm of science fiction have, for the first time, become our reality. AI is now able to produce original art, identify tumors in pictures, and even steer our cars. And yet, large gaps remain in what modern AI systems can achieve—indeed, human brains still easily perform intellectual feats that we can’t replicate in AI systems. How is it possible that AI can beat a grandmaster at chess but can’t effectively load a dishwasher? As AI entrepreneur Max Bennett compellingly argues, finding the answer requires diving into the billion-year history of how the human brain evolved; a history filled with countless half-starts, calamities, and clever innovations. Not only do our brains have a story to tell—the future of AI may depend on it.

Now, in A Brief History of Intelligence, Bennett bridges the gap between neuroscience and AI to tell the brain’s evolutionary story, revealing how understanding that story can help shape the next generation of AI breakthroughs. Deploying a fresh perspective and working with the support of many top minds in neuroscience, Bennett consolidates this immense history into an approachable new framework, identifying the “Five Breakthroughs” that mark the brain’s most important evolutionary leaps forward. Each breakthrough brings new insight into the biggest mysteries of human intelligence. Containing fascinating corollaries to developments in AI, A Brief History of Intelligence shows where current AI systems have matched or surpassed our brains, as well as where AI systems still fall short. Simply put, until AI systems successfully replicate each part of our brain’s long journey, AI systems will fail to exhibit human-like intelligence.

Endorsed and lauded by many of the top neuroscientists in the field today, Bennett’s work synthesizes the most relevant scientific knowledge and cutting-edge research into an easy-to-understand and riveting evolutionary story. With sweeping scope and stunning insights, A Brief History of Intelligence proves that understanding the arc of our brain’s history can unlock the tools for successfully navigating our technological future. 

About the Author


MAX BENNETT is an entrepreneur and researcher. He has cofounded multiple AI companies, holds several patents for AI technologies, and has published numerous scientific papers on the topics of evolutionary neuroscience and intelligence. He has been featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list as well as the Built In NYC’s 30 Tech Leaders Under 30. Most notably, Bennett was the cofounder and Chief Product Offi­cer of Bluecore, one of the fastest growing companies in the U.S., providing AI technologies to some of the largest companies in the world. Bluecore has been featured in the annual Inc. 500 fastest growing com­panies, as well as Glassdoor’s 50 best places to work in the U.S. Bluecore was recently valued at over $1 bil­lion. Bennett graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, summa cum laude, with a degree in economics and mathematics.

Praise For…


“Absolutely riveting. A Brief History of Intelligence is a spellbinding and fascinating tour of the origins of the human species, and a reminder that the human story began long before Homo sapiens. An illuminating, revelatory account of who we are and how we got here.” — Brian Christian, best-selling author of Algorithms to Live By and The Alignment Problem

“This book discloses everything you always wanted to know about the brain (but were afraid to ask). It is an incredible resource. It assimilates every discovery in neuroscience—over the last century—within a beautifully crafted evolutionary narrative. The ensuing story shows how an incremental elaboration of brains can be traced from ancient worms to the mindful, curious creatures we have become. The synthesis works perfectly. Its coherence obscures the almost encyclopedic reach of this treatment.” — Karl Friston, University College London, #1 most-cited neuroscientist in the world

“If you are interested in understanding brains or in building human-like general AI, you should read this book. This is a forward-looking book masquerading as history. A mind-boggling amount of details of anatomy, physiology, and behavior of a variety of nervous systems are brought together in a coherent evolutionary tale and explained in their computational contexts. It is a joy to read—don’t miss it!" — Dileep George, DeepMind, cofounder of Vicarious AI

“Max Bennett published two scientific papers on brain evolution that blew me away. Now he has turned these into a fabulous book, A Brief History of Intelligence.” — Joseph LeDoux, New York University, best-selling author of Anxious and The Deep History of Ourselves

“Max Bennett has written a marvelous book about the history of intelligence. I have been studying the brain for forty years, I wish I could have read Bennett’s book when I started on my journey, it would have saved me a lot of time. This book is a unique and valuable resource for anyone wanting to understand intelligence.” — Jeff Hawkins, cofounder of Numenta and Palm Computing, bestselling author of A Thousand Brains and On Intelligence

“With a truly mind-boggling scope, A Brief History of Intelligence integrates the most relevant scientific knowledge to paint the big picture of how the human mind emerged. . . . This text is embracing, ambitious, and lusciously enlightening but still remains strictly orientated to the facts, and avoids unsubstantiated speculation. This is both a piece of art as well as science. . . . I am deeply impressed by this brave project of explaining entire human nature in the grand evolutionary frame. But I am even more impressed that Max Bennett succeeded in this virtually impossible task.” — Kurt Kotrschal, University of Vienna, winner of 2010 Austrian Scientist of the Year Award and author of the critically acclaimed Wolf-Dog-Human

“Written with gusto and spirit, with intellectual courage and playfulness. It is eye-opening and intellectually invigorating . . . the work of a young and fresh mind that has no axes to grind and comes to the subject with untarnished joyful curiosity, intelligence, and courage. Everyone, from young students to established academics will find it rewarding.” — Eva Jablonka, Tel Aviv University, coauthor of Evolution in Four Dimensions and The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul

“Max Bennett gives a lively account of how brains evolved and how the brain works today. A Brief History of Intelligence is engaging, comprehensive, and brimming with novel insights.” — Kent Berridge, professor of psychology and neuroscience at University of Michigan and winner of the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology

“If you’re in the least bit curious about that three-pound gray blob between your ears, read this book. Max Bennett’s entertaining and enlightening natural history of brains is a tour de force—as refreshing as it is entertaining. It made my brain happy.” — Jonathan Balcombe, PhD, bestselling author of What a Fish Knows and Super Fly

“This book provides an exciting journey through the keys to human intelligence and has important things to say about who we are and what it means to be human. The five 'breakthroughs' in which the ability to interact with the world gets more and more complex provides a novel evolutionary structure that carries the story forward. Well written in a very readable and engaging style. Highly recommended.” — A. David Redish, University of Minnesota, author of The Mind within the Brain and Changing How We Choose: The New Science of Morality

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063286351
ISBN-10: 0063286351
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: October 8th, 2024
Pages: 432
Language: English