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Almost Human: Making Robots Think Paperback – August 24, 2009
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Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“A compelling account that reveals how far [roboticists] have come, but how far they have yet to travel to create machines with human sensibilities and gumption.” (David Temple - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
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Top Customer Reviews
An egregious error 1/2 way through the book was nearly a showstopper for me ("Linux is the language in which some of the robotics programs are written. The reason Apple computers are not used extensively here is because Apple's can't interface with Linux."), but I plodded through the rest.
However, if you are someone that expects a book that mainly focuses on the concept of artificial intelligence and discusses all the abstract theories associated with the concept then you might be looking for the wrong book. There are little bits of info on the aforementioned topic throughout the book but the main focus of the book is about the experiences of the roboticists, not the theories behind the kind of work they do.
Overall, it is a great way to get a good picture of the robotics culture in the United States and get to know some famous individuals and institutions in the field.
I've been a professional computer scientist for 25 years and worked in several different R&D arenas. I read "Almost Human" thinking I might want to work in robotics. Now that I've read the book... Well... I'm having second thoughts.
Gutkind does a competent job of reporting the work of students and staff in CMU's Robotics Lab as they develop several robotic systems, primarily the Mars rover robot Zoe. While half of the projects Gutkind describes are more appealing (e.g. RoboCup soccer team play using Aibo kit robots), the book devolves into a protracted slog to finish the development of Zoe in the desolation of the Chilean desert. Not surprisingly, the boredom and exhaustion that eventually envelop the team is vicariously shared by the reader after plodding through page after page on the team's soul-deadening 'race' to build the robot before the desert's isolation destroys their will to live. In the end, the CMUers seem not to have enjoyed nor benefitted from the experience except to be one step closer to earning their degrees. Likewise, this reader shared their sense of boredom and lost passion. Instead of accompanying a team of intellectual explorers on an odyssey of discovery, I came away feeling that I had survived a Death March.
In my opinion, the 'Zoe' half of this book will not be a fun or illuminating read for most folks interested in robotics. But for me, 'Almost Human' was worthwhile nonetheless.
I especially recommend this book to managers who may not understand the way software is produced and have uttered the phrase "when will that program be finished?". (LOL!)
If this is the kind of prose that floats your boat, then you may love this book. As for me, this passage instilled a great desire to avoid anything that this author has written. I am very glad that my copy is a library book which will be returned tomorrow.