Nieske Vergunst and Bennie Mols
The Machine as Fellow Human
There are 10 to 15 million robots on earth — what are they up to?
Robots build our cars, operate on patients and perform search and rescue operations after natural disasters; soon they will be driving us around and keeping us company. As their capabilities skyrocket, so do their numbers. This timely book helps us to get to know them better. Hello Robot gives a thorough picture of the current state of affairs in robotics — and a hopeful one.
Robots have been quietly working away in factories for more than fifty years now. They are already central to our lives: they vacuum our living rooms, water the lawns and keep the elderly company. They rescue people, allow paraplegics to walk again and even provide education. Smartphones and washing machines are assembled by robots, cows are milked by robots. Spectacular recent developments in artificial intelligence have increased robot brainpower dramatically. Will robots help us lead lives of leisure by relieving us of the need to work? Can they solve the problems of energy, climate, healthcare and mobility? Or will they put us all out of a job, de- humanize health care, start wars and turn us into slaves?
We shouldn’t worry, Mols and Vergunst assure us. Robots will help us and prove useful. Yet the authors are also honest about their shortcomings. Robots are usually good at one specific thing, but they have great difficulty combining different skills. Some can run just like a human being, but cannot converse; others can speak in a convincingly human manner, but cannot move. In particular, teaching robots to judge what is socially desirable behaviour is proving extremely difficult. So how do they work? What are they capable of?
What can’t they do? What do we want them to do? How far have we come and what does this mean for the future? All these questions are answered in this book. Vergunst and Mols also address burning issues such as privacy, safety and the interaction between man and machine. They consider real robots, science fiction robots and the people behind them — their makers and designers, both hobbyists and professionals. The book recounts the stories behind robot science and technology, providing a nuanced picture of the rise of the robot over the past half century. Robots in popular culture are also explored, and there’s even a science fiction robot timeline, and a robot hall of fame.
‘Since robots resemble animals and humans in their behaviour, they raise fundamental questions: what is life? What is consciousness? How does creativity work? What does it mean to act independently? More than just products of science and technology, robots also hold up a philosophical mirror to human beings.’