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Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

3.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195136302
ISBN-10: 0195136306
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is science fiction without the fiction--and more mind-bending than anything you ever saw on Star Trek. Moravec, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, envisions a not-too-distant future in which robots of superhuman intelligence have picked up the evolutionary baton from their human creators and headed out into space to colonize the universe.

This isn't anything that a million sci-fi paperbacks haven't already envisioned. The difference lies in Moravec's practical-minded mapping of the technological, economic, and social steps that could lead to that vision. Starting with the modest accomplishments of contemporary robotics research, he projects a likely course for the next 40 years of robot development, predicting the rise of superintelligent, creative, emotionally complex cyberbeings and the end of human labor by the middle of the next century.

After Moravec makes this point, his projections start to get really wild: robot corporations will take up residence in outer space with rogue cyborgs; planet-size robots will cruise the solar system looking for smaller bots to assimilate; and eventually every atom in the entire galaxy will be transformed into data-storage space, with a full-scale simulation of human civilization running as a subroutine somewhere.

His last chapter, which mingles the latest in avant-garde physics with hints of Borges's most intoxicating metaphysical conceits, is a breathtaking piece of hallucinatory eschatology. Moravec concludes by reminding us that even the wildest long-range predictions about the technological future never turn out to be as unhinged as they should have been. --Julian Dibbell --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Here come the free-roaming robot vacuum cleaners, self-driving cars, robot chess champions, robots that fly and swim. If these machine intelligencesAalready tooling around or on the drawing boardsAleave you blas?, consider this: Robotics pioneer Moravec predicts that if the present exponential growth rate of computing power continues, super-robots that perceive, intuit, adapt, think and even simulate feelings much like human beings will be buildable before 2050. Mixing broad speculations and practical suggestions for speeding up robotics research and development, Moravec, a founder of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, picks up where he left off in Mind Children (in which he suggested the uploading of human minds to software). In this new mind-bending futurist scenario, he predicts that advanced robots will perform all essential manufacturing and food production, pushing humanity into greater leisure and the sharing of wealth. Moravec's hypothetical robots also launch into the cosmos as colonizers, transferring whole industries to outer space. Yet, as these super-minds repeatedly restructure themselves, physical activity will increasingly give way to pure thought; cyberspace will become the inhabited universe and, in a science fiction-like twist, our robotic progeny may turn away from us in behavior and motive. Moravec dares to dream of a trillion-fingered medical robot whose molecular interventions allow it to act as diagnostic instrument, surgeon and medicine, and of quantum computers that make time travel conceivable. In this remarkable report, Moravec may have looked deeper into some aspects of the future than anyone else. Illustrated.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195136306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195136302
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In his latest book, Hans Moravec predicts that robots will take over Earth sometime in the next century. Although his predictions appear highly speculative and implausible, he grounds his speculation in current research and technology. When followed step by step, his predictions make internal sense, though many readers are sure to argue with some of the critical steps. Moravec, for example, insists that computers have, or at least will have, intelligence and something akin to consciousness. These assumptions are not central, however, to his predictions about the future of robotics. Although readers may disagree with his conclusions, Moravec's thoughts are worth reading for their insights into technology policy making and some of the possibilities of robotics. As a robotics researcher, he has valuable background knowledge, and he provides crisp reasoning behind his philosophical arguments.
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Format: Paperback
Robots are now pervasive in all areas of human activity, and they are still primitive compared to what was envisioned two decades ago, at which time independent thinking machines and military-capable robots were predicted by the late 1990s.These predictions were very optimistic and way off their mark, but this book aims to set the record straight on A.I. and to make accurate predictions on the future of robotics. The author is very convincing in his arguments that artificial intelligence will accelerate rapidly in the next few decades. He backs up his predictions with empirical evidence from activities and research currently being done in A.I. and robotics, and extrapolates these into the future. Such predictions of course have been made before, and so the author inserts an elment of caution in his analysis, but he does, in his own words, consider intelligent machines an inevitability.
The tone of the book is optimistic, and this is good since many books and movies display an attitude that is threatened by robotics and artificial intelligence. The author does however predict the end of the dominance of biological humans, such beings to be replaced by highly intelligent robots. He is probably wrong here in the sense that humans will not be mere passive spectators in the upcoming age of robots. They will hybridize themselves with the chips invented for the robots, enabling them to stand toe-to-toe with these metal/silicon geniuses. Ever-growing technology implies ever-growing enhancement for the human, visual, muscular, and auditory capabilities.
Karl Marx would raise an eyebrow to the author's prediction of the end of private ownership of the means of production. Hypercompetitiveness, the author argues, will eliminate owners, replacing them by better robot decision makers.
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Format: Paperback
I was a little disappointed in this book. Although Hans Moravec is a leading thinker in the field of artificial intelligence and a true pioneer of robotic research, he is not an especially talented writer. Nevertheless, his knowledge is prodigious and the quality of his ideas makes the book worth reading.
One thing that annoyed me was that Moravec overuses the word "robot". He goes to pains to apply the name even to other forms of artificial intelligence that have little resemblance to what we normally think of as robots. I also found his writing style somewhat tedious, a bit like sitting through a long lecture by a brilliant but boring professor.
There are other books I would recommend ahead of this one, most notably "The Age of Spiritual Machines" by Ray Kurzweil. But if you've already devoured the others and you're still hungry for more, Hans Moravec will certainly give you plenty to chew on.
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Format: Hardcover
"Robot" begins quietly enough, with a pithy reprise of the history of
robotics and artificial intelligence, and some nifty short-term
projections: robot cooks and houseboys, coming soon! Then it turns
to a strange, cool, unblinking vision of a future where ordinary
biologic humans are confined to a reservation/retirement home on
cozy old Earth, while their "mind children", advanced machine
intelligences, go out to conquer the Universe in a "bubble of Mind
expanding at near-lightspeed."

Moravec's mind-bubble will absorb and digest every physical entity in
its path, from ancient Voyager spacecraft to entire alien biospheres.
("I am vast. I contain multitudes.") These absorbed entities, he says,
"may continue to live and grow as if nothing had happened, oblivious
to their new status as simulations in cyberspace." Data-storage
capacity won't be a problem -- the atoms that make up your body,
Moravec tells us, "could contain the efficiently encoded biospheres of
a thousand galaxies."

With the entire cosmos transformed into cyberspace, it would be
possible for not just our "original versions," but every variation on
them, to "live" as massively-parallel simulations, playing out all of
the possibilities of Alternate History, perhaps as entertainment for
the vast, cool Intellects that have supplanted us. As Moravec notes,
we could already be living as simulations: We might well wonder
whether we're the "true" original, or just one of many reruns.
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