Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids / Edition 1

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Overview

Robots, androids, and bionic people pervade popular culture, from classics like Frankenstein and R.U.R. to modern tales such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Terminator, and A.I. Our fascination is obvious – and the technology is quickly moving from books and films to real life.

In a lab at MIT, scientists and technicians have created an artificial being named COG. To watch COG interact with the environment – to recognize that this machine has actual body language – is to experience a hair-raising, gut-level reaction. Because just as we connect to artificial people in fiction, the merest hint of human-like action or appearance invariably engages us.

Digital People examines the ways in which technology is inexorably driving us to a new and different level of humanity. As scientists draw on nanotechnology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and materials science, they are learning how to create beings that move, think, and look like people. Others are routinely using sophisticated surgical techniques to implant computer chips and drug-dispensing devices into our bodies, designing fully functional man-made body parts, and linking human brains with computers to make people healthier, smarter, and stronger.

In short, we are going beyond what was once only science fiction to create bionic people with fully integrated artificial components – and it will not be long before we reach the ultimate goal of constructing a completely synthetic human-like being.

It seems quintessentially human to look beyond our natural limitations. Science has long been the lens through which we squint to discern our future. Although we are rightfully fearful about manipulating the boundaries between animate and inanimate, the benefits are too great to ignore. This thoughtful and provocative book shows us just where technology is taking us, in directions both wonderful and terrible, to ponder what it means to be human.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Digital People is a comprehensive yet compact survey of robotics and bionics.—Dick Teresi
Publishers Weekly
In ancient Greece and on modern drawing boards, humans have dreamt of changing the limits of mortality through androids, robots, automatons and cyborgs. Perkowitz, a professor of physics at Emory University, catalogues our millennia-long fascination in this ambitious book. The author is at his best illuminating the history of artificial life, starting with Talos, the bronze automaton created by Hephaestus in Greek myth, and touching on every fictional work that has shaped the genre. This ranges from R.U.R. (the 1921 play that coined the word robot) to Asimov's I, Robot, with plenty of room for The Terminator, Robocop and Commander Data. Perkowitz then creates a parallel history of what humans have been able to create, dwelling mostly on prosthetics and 18th-century automatons. The final chapters describe the fascinating robots currently under development, in a manner that reads like a Nova special. The writing is technical, not for the uncommitted reader, and the book bogs down when Perkowitz grapples with the problems of duplicating human perception and self-awareness by artificial means. This is not a philosophical treatise on the nature of the mind-body connection or an engineering manual. Perkowitz fills in the gaps between current knowledge and the philosophical problems posed by advanced artificial life with fantasy-like suppositions, interposing well-accepted philosophical arguments with those that Perkowitz acknowledges have been rejected by the philosophical community. Hence, as a history of humans' fascination with artificial life-both real and fictional-this book is informative. But for a roadmap to the future of robotics, look elsewhere. (On sale May 4) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309096195
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 5/5/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction : androids all around us 1
Pt. I Artificial beings : meaning and history
2 The virtual history of artificial beings 17
3 The real history of artificial beings 51
4 We have always been bionic 85
Pt. II How far along are we?
5 Mind-body problems 105
6 Limbs, movement, and expression 123
7 The five senses, and beyond 147
8 Thinking, emotion, and self-awareness 173
9 Frankenstein's creature or commander data? 199
Suggested reading 220
Filmography 225
Acknowledgments 227
Index 229
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