Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans & Robots, by John Markoff (author), George Newbern (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781504614269, August 2015

Computers of all size and shapes have become a seamless part of our everyday lives. We carry in our pockets more computing power than Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took to the moon. Robots are still mostly less visible, still doing most of their work in factories, in space, and in other settings where humans don't add enough value to justify the risk of lives.

And whether we call them computers or robots, right now they're still just machines.

Yet the quest to develop artificial intelligence goes right back to the start of the computer age. We've reached the point where we can have something very like real conversations with Siri. Many of us have Roomba do our vacuuming. Elon Musk is determined to give us self-driving cars. Retail stores in Japan have robotic greeters. There is real work being done to develop robots who could act as aides to the elderly and the infirm. Such machines will need to have a level of judgement and understanding that computers don't yet have even a shadow of.

This book tells the history of the quest for artificial intelligence, and the tension and competition between AI (artificial intelligence, able to replace human beings in many settings) and IA (intelligent augmentation of human beings, expanding the abilities of humans). What are or will be the economic effects? The social effects? Will there be massive unemployment because robots are cheaper and can't sue for injuries? If robots are smart enough, will they have rights? Will the elderly in our aging population be more or less isolated if they get their routine, daily care from helpful little robots who have some, even if limited, autonomy and conversational ability?

In some ways, the most interesting part of the story is the conflict between AI and IA, and the people who moved from one camp to the other and why.

Overall, a fascinating history of the technology from an angle I hadn't given enough thought to before. Recommended.

I bought this book.