Archive for May 14th, 2007

Almost Human: Making Robots Think – by Lee Gutkind

Monday, May 14th, 2007
Almost Human
From Publishers Weekly
Gutkind (In Fact) spent six years as a self-described “fly on the wall” at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, watching a group of scientists—mostly grad students—try to develop human movement and decision-making capabilities. The machines he encountered came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from dog-shaped toys programmed to play soccer to a Hummer equipped with sensors that enable it to drive itself. As that Hummer indicates, the institute’s research isn’t confined to the lab: Gutkind follows his roboticists to abandoned mine shafts and the northern edges of Chile, where they use the world’s driest desert to test machines developed to find signs of life on the surface of Mars. Gutkind’s reporting captures the individual quirks of the scientists—like one researcher who only shaves on Sundays to save time during the week for his research—but his low-key tone can mute the excitement of their successes, especially given the fail-fix-try-again nature of most of their projects. Yet even though his story lacks the drive of books like Soul of a New Machine or Hackers, it gives a solid sense of what’s going on in the field.