From Publishers Weekly
Gutkind (In Fact
) spent six years as a self-described "fly on the wall" at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, watching a group of scientists—mostly grad students—try to develop human movement and decision-making capabilities. The machines he encountered came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from dog-shaped toys programmed to play soccer to a Hummer equipped with sensors that enable it to drive itself. As that Hummer indicates, the institute's research isn't confined to the lab: Gutkind follows his roboticists to abandoned mine shafts and the northern edges of Chile, where they use the world's driest desert to test machines developed to find signs of life on the surface of Mars. Gutkind's reporting captures the individual quirks of the scientists—like one researcher who only shaves on Sundays to save time during the week for his research—but his low-key tone can mute the excitement of their successes, especially given the fail-fix-try-again nature of most of their projects. Yet even though his story lacks the drive of books like Soul of a New Machine
it gives a solid sense of what's going on in the field. 15 illus. (Mar.)
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Creative nonfiction guru and seasoned immersion journalist Gutkind observes that just as computers changed the world in the 1990s, robots will "transform technology" in the future. To find out who is behind the growing robotic surge, Gutkind spent six years observing life at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, a "hypertechnological pressure cooker," where work is frenzied, frustrating, "inspiring, compelling," and addictive. Gutkind presents vivid profiles of roboticists, including graduate students, the "strong and vital force" behind the group's innovations. Audacious pranksters, shy geeks, and wry wits, they fall into rivalrous groups, the engineers versus the "code monkeys." Scenes at the institute alternate with entertaining reports on RoboCup competitions (soccer is an excellent mode for robot testing) and dramatic accounts of an ambitious project in Chile's Atacama Desert, a stand-in for Mars. Creating autonomous robots is a daunting task that arouses renewed appreciation for the fact that "a human being is the most sophisticated system in the universe." Gutkind's incisive and provocative dispatches from the robotic front will help prepare us for the next machine wave. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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