A lucid counterbalance to the menacing view of robotics long depicted in science fiction.

READ REVIEW

OUR ROBOTS, OURSELVES

ROBOTICS AND THE MYTHS OF AUTONOMY

Historian and engineer Mindell (History of Engineering and Manufacturing, Aeronautics and Astronautics/MIT; Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight, 2008, etc.) argues that it’s time to change how we think about robots.

For decades, robots have been used in “extreme” environments, from deep oceans to outer space. Drawing on research, interviews, and extensive experience in undersea robotic exploration and the engineering of autonomous aircraft, the author takes us deep inside these robotic applications to reveal the critical role that humans will continue to play in the emerging world of driverless cars, robotic surgery, and remote warfare. His authoritative account looks at the relationship between humans and machines as they explore underwater environments for shipwrecks, conduct remote battles through drones, and engage in distant exploration and repair missions in outer space. In each instance, scientists and others do not physically go to sites where they are working, but their “minds and imaginations” spend days there. Space scientists “become” the distant rover. (“It’s…some kind of weird, man-machine bond,” says one.) Predator pilots, based in air-conditioned control rooms, experience identity crises as they engage in distant warfare “mediated by technology.” Geologists, accustomed to working directly with materials, often feel threatened professionally when engaged in remote undersea exploration. Yet humans are not abdicating to robots, writes Mindell. They are adjusting to new roles and using the robots. Indeed, the human factor—“human decisions, presence, and expertise”—remains more crucial than ever in working with robots. General readers will wish the author had offered more examples of the unusual man-machine interactions in the words of people who experienced them, but Mindell certainly dispels any notion that these robots are completely autonomous and leaves us with a better understanding of what lies ahead for our daily lives.

A lucid counterbalance to the menacing view of robotics long depicted in science fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-42697-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more