An examination of philosophies undergirding the impending future of driverless cars and mobile robots.
Longtime New York Times technology and business reporter Markoff (What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer, 2005, etc.) focuses on technology’s unexpected social impacts, discussing long-running divisions between artificial intelligence and "Intelligence Augmentation," as represented by innovations like Apple’s Siri. Even now, “the separate disciplines of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction rarely speak to one another.” Beginning in the 1950s, this competitiveness incubated at MIT and Stanford. Early on, theoretical proponents of AI were marginalized, both by the perception of computers as massive business-oriented mainframes and by the practical successes of NASA, which "established a view of human-machine interaction that elevates human decision-making beyond the fallible machines of our mythology.” Yet Markoff argues that several AI “bubbles” kept the obscure specialty alive, through the personal computer explosion of the 1980s and the dot-com developments of the ’90s, so that it was primed for a comeback in the smartphone era, as evidenced by the ubiquity of Siri and Google, as well as sudden advancements in robotics. The author’s overall argument is clear: that a synthesis is underway between future AI developments and the ubiquity of such technologies now. The author asserts that “programs like Siri…are beginning to make human-machine interactions in natural language seem routine.” Markoff acknowledges but doesn’t fully explore the likelihood of profound job losses, noting that as companies like Amazon encounter labor issues, “lights-out [robotic] warehouses are clearly on the horizon.” The author illustrates his broader argument with real-world examples, ranging from Microsoft’s failed interface device “Clippy” to Google’s interest in both autonomous vehicles and robotics. Markoff offers a well-researched and controlled narrative, but his approach is jargon-heavy and too biographically focused on individual innovators in AI and computing, an approach used to better effect in What the Dormouse Said.
Despite flaws, this should appeal as an earnest attempt to parse the future impact of these radical advances.