The world of HAL and Data, of sentient machines, is fast approaching. Indeed, in some ways it has already arrived, as humans incorporate bionic technology and as humanlike machines increasingly take on the work of humans.
Rodney Brooks, a professor of engineering at MIT, has been involved in this transformation for decades. He has helped design robots that reason, at least after a fashion. The machines are as yet primitive, but, Brooks writes, in five years the boundary between what is now fantasy and fact will be breached, and intelligent machines will come into their own. With them will come a host of ethical problems, as we wrestle with the implications of Asimov's laws of robotics and with the very real possibility that we have created a new kind of slave. There's no way of getting around this future, it would seem, and, adds Brooks, our species will change in the bargain: "With all these trends we will become a merger between flesh and machines."
Antitechnologists may shudder at the story line, but readers interested in the gee-whiz possibilities of the digital age will be fascinated by Brooks's vision of what is and what will be. --Gregory McNamee
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From Publishers Weekly
Brooks, a leading "roboticist" and computer science professor at MIT, believes that robots in the future will probably be nothing like such all-knowing brain machines as 2001's HAL, nor will they resemble the sleek cyborgs of other Hollywood nightmares. Rather, they will be simple, ubiquitous, curious little machines that will have more in common with humans than one might think. Brooks, and his fellow researchers, suggest that the focus of much AI and robot research has been to develop superhuman devices that operate at the highest intellectual levels. Much better, he says, to make a lot of simple, cheap robots that can perform only a few tasks, but do them well. Brooks begins with a brief but comprehensive overview of the field of research into AI and robotics, then dives quickly into his and his fellow enthusiasts' work as they engineer one strange, insect-looking (and weirdly human-acting) metallic creature after another. Occasionally, Brooks's involvement with iRobots (he is chairman and chief technical officer of the robot company) shifts the book into an advertisement for upcoming products. Brooks points the way toward a future where humans work in tandem with and even begin to resemble a host of his fast, cheap creations not a science fiction utopia, but a future where people have a lot more and better tools to work with.
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