ROBOTICS by Marvin--Ed. Minsky


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For this omni-directional compilation, Al doyen Minsky has assembled (with a bow to OMNI editors) engineers and policy-thinkers, laboratory researchers and industrial big-wigs, to lay out the history, state-of-the art, and impact of robots. High marks go to T.A. Heppenheimer (Ph.D. in aerospace engineering) for an adroit condensation of robot history. Philip Agre of M.I.T.'s Artificial Intelligence Lab follows with an intellectual frontier chapter. As a Minsky disciple, Agre is concerned with endowing robots with common sense--a task more formidable than writing a program to beat a chess grand master. Thomas Bixford (Stanford) grapples with computer vision and Hans Moravec (Carnegie-Mellon) with movement. Moravec's chapter, ""The Rovers,"" soon takes off on its own fancy flight, however, projecting all sorts of transplants/translations whereby human neuron assemblies are moved to mechanical creatures to speed up human thought: with a little laser projection here and there, you, the robot, can eventually break out in time and space. A chapter on cyborgs by Robert Fritas (NASA) trots out state-of-the-art means of extending human muscle-power and ends with the ultimate symbiotic bionic man. With Joseph Engelberger we are down to earth again (as in Asimov, above) with a global picture of current industrial robot technology. Final chaptars by journalist Richard Wolkomir (The Machine Servant), Robert Ayres (Carnegie-Mellon/The Automated Society) and sci-fier Robert Sheckley (Scenes from the Twenty-first Century) deal, respectively, with home robots, the impact on labor/culture, and fictive scenarios--where, for good or evil, the line between human and robot all but disappear. Minsky picks up on these themes in the conclusion, maintaining that society can handle the labor changes over time, but raising some questions about ultimate values as human and robot destinies become intertwined. Excellent in parts, too blurry or rosy in others--yet sufficiently different from the Asimov-Frenkel offering to appeal to the same built-in set of readers.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1985
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday