Australian-born Brooks, director of MIT’s renowned Artificial Intelligence Lab and chairman of iRobot Corp., offers a unique perspective on the past, present, and future of robotics.
This personal but wide-ranging study postulates that in the coming 20 years humankind faces a two-pronged robotics revolution: our robots will become more like us as we in turn become more like them. Brooks’s unpretentious prose provides a mostly smooth trip through the pioneering sciences and technologies that have resulted in the current level of software-driven, computer-coupled robotics, although some lay readers will hit the wall in his exploration of software architectures. Along the way, he ventures intriguingly into questions that have preoccupied scientists and philosophers for centuries. What is cognition? What is the source of consciousness? What role, if any, does each play in what we tend to perceive as systemic behavior? The author adds to the intrigue by stripping a robotic design of any cognitive (modeling) components and then producing a “creature” that, in the laboratory, demonstrates productive behavior: silicon-based stupidity, in effect, can still embody survival skills. Brooks weaves top-level thinking from experts around the world into his conclusion that ever-expanding computing horsepower (Moore's Law) is primed to produce robotics breakthroughs in the near future that could even include the “miracle” of self-consciousness. Thus, he argues, we should prepare now to confront those eerie social dilemmas to which SF writers have often alluded. Meanwhile, unable to resist the obvious advantages of everything from cochlear implants to pacemakers, human beings will become less like flesh, more like machine in the name of improving the breed. With tomorrow’s robots in the job force, equal opportunity could take on a whole new meaning.
Intelligent, thoughtful, and (mostly) accessible.