Robots, the clanking metal menaces of B-movies, may in fact be the greatest benefactors our race has ever known--or so says...


ROBOT: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

Robots, the clanking metal menaces of B-movies, may in fact be the greatest benefactors our race has ever known--or so says one of their leading proponents. Observing the ever-increasing rate of change in human society, Moravec (Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, 1988) argues that we are on the threshold of a major breakthrough. A world of plenty for everyone is within reach--without pollution or resource depletion. How will this miracle be achieved? The short answer is robots: intelligent machines that work without human intervention or supervision, using resources wisely, and freeing us for a life rich beyond the wildest dreams of any past era. This optimism may seem facile, but Moravec, founder of the Robotics Program at Carnegie Mellon University, marshals plenty of support for his audacious thesis. A look at the current state of the science reveals that robots have come farther than many realize; in 1995, a robot-guided car drove from Washington, D.C., to San Diego, averaging 60 m.p.h.--with its human designer taking control less than two percent of the time. Robots are currently in use for security guard duty and delivering meals in hospitals. While problems with cost and reliability persist, Moravec argues that future advances will overcome these liabilities. At the current rate of progress, extremely small computers capable of simulating the human brain will be available in perhaps three decades; the rest, Moravec believes, is simply a matter of engineering. Universal robots--machines increasingly capable of mimicking higher human faculties, including reasoning and emotions--may appear within the lifetimes of some readers. At that point, we will be on the verge of a science-fictional utopia, a long and graceful era of retirement for the human race before the machines replace us entirely. Moravec sees no problem with that; he's content that robots, as our ""mind children,"" will carry our heritage into the wider universe. Extremely thought-provoking; deserves careful reading, especially by those fearful of unchecked scientific progress.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998


Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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