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Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us Hardcover – February 12, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (February 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375420797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375420795
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,121,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I was excited to get my hands on this book. I respect Brook's work and have followed it closely since the mid 80s. Perhaps that in itself invalidates me as this book's target demographic, which certainly seems to be those with little acquaintance of AI or robotics, or even science, for that matter. I would wager that most who have followed the philosophical and technical debates surrounding both topics, even if only in the popular trades, will find themselves let down. There's just too much philosophical fluff and religious rehash in this treatment to make it a consistently riveting read.
While inconsistent, there are points in the book that are quite satisfying. After a slow start tracking through ancient history, once Brooks begins telling his own stories and those of his contemporaries, he catches his stride and is captivating. It was late at night, but I couldn't put the book down as he described his laboratory's robots from Allen through Cog and the delightful Kismet (and Cynthia Breazeal! Never miss an opportunity to hear her speak, she can compress ten hours worth of speech into an hour and make it utterly digestible and entertaining.) Brooks lays out his insights regarding his design choices in clear and polished prose, and summarizes a variety of the motivating research without losing the reader in details. Would there were more, though, and more regarding the work of other researchers in robotics. This probably should have been subtitled _How MIT AI Lab Robots Will Change Us_.
There is enough in the book - say between pages 16 and 147 for me to justify the purchase, but after that point, I think it went downhill fast.
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Format: Paperback
Some people may recognize Rodney Brooks as the insect obsessed robot maker featured in the documentary film "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control." He seems decidedly in control as he lays out his version of the past, present, and future relationship of people and their technology in "Flesh and Machines". This control is one of the greatest virtues of the book. While other authors practically froth at the mouth as they prophesy the coming technorapture when they predict we will become immortal by downloading our minds into robots, Brooks comes to similar conclusions, but in a calm, only occasionally boring, manner. This makes me take him more seriously.
As a reader only casually versed in the science and history of robotics, I found the book informative and approachable. The first third of the book held my interest best. In this part, he recounts the early history of robotics with particular focus on a simple robot built in the 1940s nicknamed the tortoise, which combined simple electronics and sensors to create a machine with complex behavior. Brooks then goes on to use the ideas embodied in the tortoise to turn the modern world of robotics on its head. From 1950's though the eighties, robot developers tried to build robots that developed detailed world models, and thus could navigate through them with ease. That was the theory, but it did not work. Robots spent so much time building up these models that they moved slowly and gracelessly. After years of working on robot vision, Brooks wondered what would happen if a robot did not even try to create a mental model of it's environment. What if sensors linked to simple actions, a la tortoise?
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By A Customer on March 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Its a decent book about Robots and AI written in a friendly and honest manner. The first 2 sections of the book are interesting but the third section dealing with the future seems very uncertain.
Rodney Brooks seems to have lost his faith in Robots slightly and instead of getting Ray Kurzweils' ranting hyper future we get crappy robot lawnmowers and robots that can open the fridge and maybe get you a beer if you install a speciak fridge. Hmmmm runs out of steam a bit.
Still though he has been at it for 20 years and anybody thats been at anything for 20 years is worth having a listen to. And thats what its like, a gentle chat!
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Format: Hardcover
The book is full of interesting tales of the robotics revolution and Brooks raises all the good questions concerning the future of robots and their integration into our lives and persons. Unfortunately, Brooks also offers "arguments" about everything from the (in)significance of consciousness to the nature of humanity. The arguments aren't worthy of a bright undergraduate philosophy major, much less a distinguished scientist, and in fact his positions could have been supported with references of many other authors whose arguments are less facile. With a bit more effort this could have been a very good book.
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Format: Paperback
A short, rambling discourse on the author's work on robots at MIT and his vision of the future. The book has no consistent theme but covers a number of interesting topics: the history of robotics, the author's work at MIT, the perceived inferiorities of other researchers, the physiological basis of conciousness, and, finally, our glorious cybernetic future.
The sections on the author's own work are fascinating. His familiarity with biological concepts of self-organization lead him to use a completely different methodology than most other researchers in the field; anyone who has seen the PBS specials about his work or Errol Morris' "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" know what I am talking about. This methodology seems to have distinct advantages compared with the heavy math/CS bias that most experimenters display.
Also interesting are his hypotheses regarding the physiological basis of conciousness (aka the "mind/body problem".) In the chapter "We Are Not Special", he argues for a coming "third wave" of disillusionment: following the Galilean discovery that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and the Darwinian discovery the humans were simply the latest product of evolution, the author argues that in the coming years robotic/computer conciousness will demonstrate that there is nothing "special" about the human brain. A great chapter for those interested in AI/cognitive science issues.
So overall, worth a read for your average nerd. I would give it five stars but for the author's arrogant and condescending tone and his tendency to unfairly disparage the work of other researchers.
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