The Barest of Beginnings

Almost Human: Making Robots ThinkAlmost Human: Making Robots Think by Lee Gutkind

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It may be a long time before we have robots as sophisticated as R2D2 or C3P0, but roboticists get closer every day as they work toward making robots think. Lee Gutkind’s Almost Human: Making Robots Think tours through contemporary robotics research — largely at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh — and gives readers a glimpse of where we are going with this particular technology and reveals that getting to the point of making independent thinking machines is at “the barest beginning.”

Gutkind focuses heavily on researchers involved in trying to find out whether robots could traverse the rugged extraterrestial terrain of Mars and perform independent experiments to discover signs of life on the Red Planet.

One intriguing concept Gutkind follows briefly is the idea of human/robot interactions — that humans will have to learn to adjust to almost-human machines in the same way we are having to adjust to the rapid advances in computer technology.

But most of all Gutkind puts a human stamp on the machines, potraying in depth the scientists and engineers behind the robots. We find out these researchers are driven, willing to put in long, grueling hours into designing and testing their machines. Gutkind’s portrait is reminiscent of Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine, an examination of the computer revolution in the ’70s and ’80s.

What Gutkind finds, I believe, is that the soul of these new machines is human.

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3 thoughts on “The Barest of Beginnings

    • It’s an interesting book. Slow in parts. Made me envious of the adventures Gutkind had, especially going out to the Atacama desert in Chile on a field research expeditiom with the roboticists— apparently that desert is so barren it serves as a good sub for the surface of Mars.

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