Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
A field guide to our mechanical future, presenting the next generation of intelligent robots and their makers.
Around the world, scientists and engineers are participating in a high-stakes race to build the first intelligent robot. Many robots already exist automobile factories are full of them. But the new generation of robots will be something else: smart machines that act like living creatures. When they are brought into existence, science fiction will have become fact.
What will happen then? With our prosthetic limbs, titanium hips, and artificial eyes, we are already beginning to resemble our machines. Equally important, our machines are beginning to resemble us. Robots already walk, talk, and dance; they can react to our facial expressions and obey verbal commands. When they take the next step and become fully autonomous, what will they do? Will we be partners or rivals? Could we meld into a single species Robo sapiens?
In Robo sapiens, Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio present the next generation of intelligent robots and their makers. Accompanying brilliant photographs of more than one hundred robots is an account of the little-known, yet vitally important scientific competition to build an autonomous robot. Containing extensive interviews with robotics pioneers, anecdotal "field notes" with behind-the-scenes information, and easy-to-understand technical data about the machines, Robo sapiens is a field guide to our mechanical future.
|Product dimensions:||8.50(w) x 10.75(h) x 0.50(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Electric Dreams: What the Future May HoldThere are great and wondrous robots in our future, say Those Who Know. Robots will assist the elderly and infirm into and out of wheelchairs and beds, be conversant in several languages, intuit despair, watch over babies, and provide a sympathetic ear to the lonely. Smartly appointed robotic vacuum cleaners, robotic cars, robotic maids, robotic cleanup squads, and robotic personal assistants will lead to greater efficiency and safety in the world, working where humans can't or won't and providing more free time for their masters. All but human, ubiquitous, they will be woven invisibly into the fabric of our lives.
There are terrible times in store for the human race, say Those Who Know. Robots will begin as elder-care assistants and vacuum cleaners, but they won't stay there. They will take what we teach them and learn to want more. They will make themselves ever smarter and stronger, until finally, discovering that they are better than we are at everything we do, they will refuse to take our orders. Far from becoming indispensable components of our lives, they will find our lives ever more unnecessary to them. if they don't end up ignoring us, they'll eliminate us.
Who are Those Who Know? The robot pundits. The prognosticators of our mechanical future. The digital soothsayers. Academic and corporate researchers, for the most part, they study such exotic domains as artificial intelligence, cyberneurology, and biomimetics. Often at odds with one another but never unsure of their auguries, they claim to know the future of the human race, and to know that it will involve robots. Robots, they all agree, willtransform the future. The problem is; they differ on the details. Like whether robots will serve us-or we will serve them.
For more than a year, Peter Menzel and I explored robotics laboratories in Europe, Asia, and America, looking at projects in development and speaking with researchers. Over time, we concluded that these pundits are at least partly right. Clearly, the robots are coming. Although the machines we saw were often barely functional, they were gaining in capacity. The discipline of robotics-a quirky union involving the fields of artificial intelligence, computer science, mechanical engineering, psychology, anatomy, and half a dozen others-is perhaps moving faster than even the researchers know.
The discipline is advancing so rapidly, in fact, that some roboticists have begun questioning the direction in which their work is heading. Not every roboticist we encountered felt inclined to speculate on the future, of course. Like all branches of science and engineering, robotics is full of researchers who try to focus entirely on their work in the present. For the most part, these people take pains to distinguish themselves from the robot pundits. But, there is something so magical about the creation of artificial living creatures-mechanical entities with lifelike behavior-that even the soberest of the researchers find themselves wondering what lies ahead for their creations, and for humankind. The robot revolution will happen, whether we like it or not. From now on, we and the robots are in this together. All the more reason, thought Peter and I, to try to figure out what's coming down the pike.
Even before 1920, when the Czech writer Karel Capek invented the word "robot" in his play R.U.R., the world had begun to embrace the concept of artificial workers with humanlike capacities. Japanese inventors and artisans had created tea-serving automata, or karakuri as early as the seventeenth century. Automatamechanical contrivances designed to act as if they were under their own power-were familiar diversions in eighteenth-century European courts. And by the nineteenth century, automatons were creeping into sciencebased fiction and folklore in the form of golems, clockwork men, and Frankenstein's monster.
One of the first attempts to match reality to fantasy occurred after the Second World War, when aerospace engineer Joseph Engelberger (see page 186) conceived of machines that could perform repetitive tasks tirelessly and more accurately than their human counterparts, and brought robots to the factory floor. What began primarily as a field for mechanical engineers grew to include engineers of all stripes. Their machines were in essence puppets-expensive, beautifully designed devices that were controlled completely by the strings of their instructions. They couldn't think, create, or react; they simply performed their tasks, moving with the reflexive precision of a pendulum.
Robotics did not acquire its present scope until the arrival of modern computers, which inevitably brought with it the idea of stuffing some sort of brain into the robot. In the 1940s, English mathematician Alan Turing laid the groundwork for artificial intelligence, famously theorizing that a machine is intelligent when there is no discernible difference between its conversation and that of an intelligent person. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, trail-blazing computer scientists John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky founded what in the late 1950s became the world's first laboratory devoted to artificial intelligence. One goal was to use artificial intelligence to advance the study of human intelligence. Another was, of course, to build robots.
In those optimistic days, computer power was growing so fast that true artificial intelligence seemed to be just around the corner. It wasn't. Some AI researchers were able to program computers to behave intelligently in certain narrow functions, but they were never able to create a machine that could speak or read or solve unexpected puzzles. Dumping a dictionary into a computer-their approach, roughly speaking-didn't produce a book. Minsky tried to build an "intelligent" arm that could stack blocks atop one another. It never worked. Beset by difficulty, artificial intelligence as an active field of research declined in the 1980s
Partly to blame is the inherent difficulty in creating a simulacrum of a phenomenon that nobody understands. If the nature of intelligence and consciousness remains a subject for speculation to this day, how can scientists manufacture it in artificial form? If we needed to know how our brain works-where thoughts come from and how memory works-in order to use it, all of us would be in a heap of trouble. Even the scientists who have charged themselves with the task of discovering the secrets of the brain, and are shrinking the pile of unanswered questions and conundrums at a faster and faster pace, are still working at the level of the educated guess. And if they get to the bottom of the pile of riddles, will they have the answers they seek? If the magic of a single thought is made not of illusion but allusion, will its genesis be any more possible to discern?
Many roboticists today avoid the quagmires of AI by building what are in essence dumb machines, without a hint of consciousness but programmed cleverly enough to perform complex tasks-searching for breaks in a municipal sewer system or pumping gas at a service station (see page 195). Using cheap, scavenged electronic equipment, Mark Tilden, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory (see page 117), can make small, insectlike machines that walk over irregular terrain with as much aplomb as if they had eyes to see where they were going and minds to adjust their step.
Does a robot need to have much of a brain? It depends on what you want it to do. Usually, machines we saw in the laboratories were bolted to a bench; some could maneuver around a finite pristine space under close supervision. But if robots are to inhabit the world's kitchens, as Tilden puts it, "You probably want the robot to know that it shouldn't suck up the cat kibble" (Let alone the cat.) When a robot operates in a human environment, the programming becomes more difficult. Safety concerns, mobility issues, and space requirements suddenly emerge. If more than one task is involved, the difficulty increases exponentially. Even a harmless, just-for-fun device like the Sony AIBO robot dog (see page 224) is subject to these constraintsthat's why it moves slowly, is soft-edged, and costs twenty-five hundred dollars.
Sophisticated programming alone is not enough to make a machine seem lifelike. Curiously, what is required often is not great intelligence or startling skills, but randomness. Predictable behavior is computerlike; randomness is human. To accommodate this perception, Sony has added touches of spontaneity to the AIBO: in no particular or repeating order, at any given time, it might "play" with its ball or lie down and wave its legs in the air. But the notion of randomness in a machine dismays Engelberger, the robotics pioneer. "Maybe it is more fun and interesting if it screws up now and then and it does something a little different;" he told me. "But I don't want that. I want the thing to be utterly reliable." ("Robots like the AIBO have a different purpose," I observe. "Yeah;" he says. "To horse around:") It's understandable that Engelberger would feel that way-he designs industrial and health-service-oriented robots, which must be undeviatingly dependable. But even in the more relaxed atmosphere of the home, unexpected robotic behavior could be less than charming. A vacuum-cleaning robot that spontaneously broke out into a little dance might be funny the first few times, but a householder's patience might wear thin if that expensive robot vacuum cleaner were dancing instead of working, and wearing out its custom wheels and the carpet in the process. Thus even the most wellprogrammed, occasionally random automata will not be fit companions for people. If robots are to fulfill their creators' dreams, they will have to be given truly intelligent brains, which means that even if they want to, researchers will no longer be able to avoid wrestling with the riddles of AI.
Today, there are two main approaches to creating a clever machine: weak and strong artificial intelligence. Weak AI is the argument that a machine can simulate the behavior of human cognition, but it can't actually experience mental states itself. Even though such machines would be able to pass Turing's test of intelligence, they would still be little more than extra-complex clock radios. Proponents of strong Al argue, by contrast, that machines are capable of cognitive mental states-that it is possible to build a self-aware machine with real emotions and consciousness.
Strong AI greatly distresses some philosophers, including John Searle of the University of California at Berkeley. If a computer can have cognitive mental states, he points out, then a human mind would have to be simply a computer program implemented in the brain. To Searle, this contention is absurd; consciousness is a firstperson, subjective phenomenon that no mechanical computation, no matter how sophisticated, can produce.
Daniel C. Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University, takes the opposite view. Consciousness, he says, is at its core algorithmic-that is, the brain has a series of rules for dealing with incoming sensory data, and the summed execution of these rules in the lower strata of the mind generates consciousness in the mind's upper strata. If Searle is right, robotics faces inherent limitations-we will never be able to build a truly intelligent machine. Dennett offers a more hopeful picture, at least for roboticists. But there is a chance that both might be wrong. Robots may need a brain to do everything their advocates imagine, but they may not need a brain that is humanlike. It is possible that circuitry utterly unlike the human brain could make robots behave in ways that seem indistinguishable from the workings of intelligent consciousness.
The construction of such machines-a race of intelligent aliens made right here on Earth-would be an ironic triumph for Al advocates. Proof that artificial intelligence is possible, these robots would still be incomprehensible; they would provide little or no insight into the human mind. Worse, they would plunge humankind into an immediate ethical quandary. If a robot has a brain equal to that of a human being, should it also have the legal and political rights of a human being?
Table of ContentsIntroduction Peter Menzel
Methodology Faith D'Aluisio
Sources and Resources
What People are Saying About This
This is one of the most mind-stretching and frightening books I've ever read. It's also a tour de force of photography: the images reveal a whole new order of creation about to come into existence. No one who has any interest in the future can afford to miss it.
This is one of the most mind-stretching -- and frightening -- books I've ever read. It's also a tour de force of photography: The images reveal a whole new order of creation about to come into existence.
" Robo sapiens is a fascinating, in-depth look at one of the most challenging engineering tasks ever attempted. The photos amaze, while the text gives the inside story of researchers bashing their heads up against boggling complexity. You pick up Robo sapiens for the great photos, and then get caught up reading the inside politics of the race to build human-like machines. Don"t be surprised by the coming era of robotics read Robo sapiens and be ready." K. Eric Drexler , Chairman, Foresight Institute, and author, Engines of Creation and Nanosystems
An engaging and insightful compendium illuminating our accelerating ascent to the inevitable merger of human and machine. Although many today find the prospect disconcerting, by the time the robo sapiens are fully amongst us, we will find it very natural to interact intimately with these inventions of our intellect.
Robo sapiens is a fascinating, in-depth look at one of the most challenging engineering tasks ever attempted. The photos amaze, while the text gives the inside story of researchers bashing their heads up against boggling complexity. You pick up Robo sapiens for the great photos, and then get caught up reading the inside politics of the race to build human-like machines. Don't be surprised by the coming era of robotics read Robo sapiens and be ready.