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Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0062266682
ISBN-10: 0062266683
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Editorial Reviews


“Mr. Markoff focuses on the personalities, since technology depends on the values of its creators. The human element makes the subject accessible. (His chapter on the history of AI is superb.)” (The Economist)

“Neither alarmist nor affirmative [MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE] contain[s] urgent, compelling and relevant calls to consciously embed our values in the systems we design, and to critically engage with our choices…. Before welcoming our robotic overlords, read [this] book.” (New Scientist)

“John Markoff of The New York Times highlights the compelling contrast between AI and intelligence amplification (IA). He chronicles the fascinating and often antagonistic evolution of these fields since 1956, when both terms were coined.” (Nature)

“Markoff did his homework and capably tackles interesting things.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“[F]ascinating, informative, thought-provoking…” (San Jose Mercury News)

“A detailed, engrossing history of robotics…This revealing look at profound technological and economic developments will unsettle anyone who has a job to lose.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Readers who like their history with a little personality will enjoy this detailed exploration of the development of computers and robotics as assistive or control technologies and the people who make it happen.” (Library Journal)

“Will robots of the future be our partners or our Frankenstein’s monster? You should read this book. As Markoff explains in this engrossing narrative filled with colorful characters and head-snapping insights, the answer is up to us.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and The Innovators)

“How should we balance what machines can do for us, and what they can help us do ourselves? Markoff hits on one of the central questions in technology today. A fascinating read.” (Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest)

“Machines of Loving Grace is the first comprehensive study to place [robots] in the context of the cloud-based intelligence that throws a game-changer at the question: ‘But what will they do for brains?’” (George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe)

“I devoured this book like an espionage thriller because the fate of humanity is on the line, and Markoff’s narrative is so engaging.” (Oren Etzioni, CEO of The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence)

“John Markoff has been seeing around the corners of the technology revolution throughout his career. Now he uses his full range of vision and experience to examine whether humans can make peace with the coming wave of smart machines. His view is intelligent, illuminating and, yes, optimistic.” (John Hollar, president and CEO of the Computer History Museum)

From the Back Cover

Robots are poised to transform today's society as completely as the Internet did twenty years ago. Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times science writer John Markoff argues that we must decide to design ourselves into our future, or risk being excluded from it altogether.

In the past decade, Google introduced us to driverless cars; Apple debuted Siri, a personal assistant that we keep in our pockets; and an Internet of Things connected the smaller tasks of everyday life to the farthest reaches of the Web. Robots have become an integral part of society on the battlefield and the road; in business, education, and health care. Cheap sensors and powerful computers will ensure that in the coming years, these robots will act on their own. This new era offers the promise of immensely powerful machines, but it also reframes a question first raised more than half a century ago, when the intelligent machine was born. Will we control these systems, or will they control us?

In Machines of Loving Grace, John Markoff offers a sweeping history of the complicated and evolving relationship between humans and computers. In recent years, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, posing an ethical quandary. If humans delegate decisions to machines, who will be responsible for the consequences? As Markoff chronicles the history of automation, from the birth of the artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation communities in the 1950s and 1960s, to the modern-day brain trusts at Google and Apple in Silicon Valley, and on to the expanding robotics economy around Boston, he traces the different ways developers have addressed this fundamental problem and urges them to carefully consider the consequences of their work. We are on the brink of the next stage of the computer revolution, Markoff argues, and robots will profoundly transform modern life. Yet it remains for us to determine whether this new world will be a utopia. Moreover, it is now incumbent upon the designers of these robots to draw a bright line between what is human and what is machine.

After nearly forty years covering the tech industry, Markoff offers an unmatched perspective on the most drastic technology-driven societal shifts since the introduction of the Internet. Machines of Loving Grace draws on an extensive array of research and interviews to present an eye-opening history of one of the most pressing questions of our time, and urges us to remember that we still have the opportunity to design ourselves into the future—before it's too late.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (August 25, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062266683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062266682
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Randolph Crawford on September 5, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unlike most books about AI, this one is about more than automation.  In addition to robots, answer-bots, and robocars, Markoff delves deeper, asking, "How will we *use* these smarter computers?"  This leads to discussion of software assistants and better computer interfaces which don't simply replace humans but extend our capabilities and change the way we live with technology of all kinds.

Not a book of philosophy, Markoff instead illustrates the changing face of AI-based tech by tracing the evolving professional trajectories of both major AI luminaries and their offspring, many of whom have shifted their focus toward using computers and mobile devices better rather than merely as a future job killer.  A second primary thread throughout the book is IA, or intelligence augmentation, where the innovation focuses more on the *way* a user interacts with machines.  Beginning with Licklider and Engelbart, Markoff traces the rise of innovative computing interfaces (e.g. the mouse and GUIs, Xerox Star, Macintosh, iPhone, iPod, Siri, IBM Watson, and virtual reality), tying IA together with AI into a fusion of novelty which will inextricably interact in years to come.

I came at this book after over 20 years working in or at the margins of AI.  I'd hoped it would help me better understand the current state of the field and better anticipate near term job prospects.  It has. Thoroughly researched. Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In 1967, Richard Brautigan, the patron saint of hippiedom, published a poem in a collection under a title copied for this book. In the poem’s final stanza, he envisioned a world run by robots that to so many readers then must have seemed entirely fanciful:

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.

Now, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times technology and science reporter John Markoff examines Brautigan’s vision in the light of nearly fifty years of technological development. His conclusion? Ambiguous. However, one thing emerges clearly: “just as personal computing and the Internet have transformed the world during the past four decades, artificial intelligence and robotics will have an even larger impact during the next several.”

Markoff is unclear what that impact will be. He describes the enduring debate about the consequences of automation, which came to the fore in popular media in the 1950s. The question, of course, is whether robots will displace humans — and ultimately even eliminate us! — or simply expand our capabilities. Some of today’s most audacious thinkers, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Joy, and Elon Musk, have issued dire warnings about the dangers inherent in the possibility of runaway automation, while others such as Ray Kurzweil welcome the prospect with open arms, even claiming the potential for human immortality in advancing machine intelligence.
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Format: Hardcover
What is the point of this book? I don't know - just a group of long essays about various people formerly involved in software or hardware, with no clear overall point. Read the book with the intent of getting a better idea of where robots/automation would take us - instead got a very slightly better idea of where they'd come from.
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Excellent history of AI and robotics. Markoff really did his homework, and his personal interviews with the leading figures distinguishes this book. Chapter at end on future prospects is very conservative, very short: I wanted more, but as a technical writer, he doesn't go far out on a limb. This book should be updated, or a next volume issued, as the field evolves rapidly.
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Format: Hardcover
In this book, Markoff explores the concepts of of AI (artificial intelligence) and IA (intelligence amplification) and their roles in contemporary society. Markoff analyzes these concepts and provides real world examples where robots representing either concept carry out human tasks. The question in the book is not whether or not automation will play a big role in our lives in the near future, but when. Whether machines will supplant human (AI scenario) or serve as an augmented extension (IA scenario), robots will become an increasing presence in our daily lives.

Markoff delves into the history of robotics and traces its origins to the 1970s. Since then, companies like Apple and Google as well as government-funded organizations such as DARPA have made significant advancements in the development of robotics. Whether or not they are designed to replace or aid humans in daily tasks, robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated with human dexterity, analyzation, and problem solving skills.

Markoff always identifies how robotics is affecting the livelihood of millions of people. One key advantage of increased robotic presence is to eliminate human interference in jobs that are repetitive and boring. Many see this as a means to kill millions of jobs, but Markoff explores the hypothesis that while robots take repetitive labor jobs, there is more room for skilled labor in the workforce to monitor and repair robotic functions.

Other robotic scenarios including mobile personal assistants, elderly caregiving, and autonomous driving are also covered in this book as well. No one knows what the future holds, but whatever happens will dictate how much in the loop humans are as they are displaced by cheaper and more efficient robots. Personally, I believe society will shift towards whatever is cheaper. Robots will become a part of our daily lives. However, will they supplant human kind or will they supplement our existence? Time will tell.
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