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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Artificial life forms?, 16 Nov 2012
This review is from: Robotics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
I became hooked on the Very Short Introductions series from the very first one I read ("Consciousness" by Susan Blackmore). These short, lively, engaging books provide an excellent overview of their subject matter for the interested non-specialist. Like the very best in the series, "Robotics" succeeds on many levels. First, Alan Winfield introduces a very technical subject in plain readable English, without overuse of technical jargon. Secondly, he neatly summarises the state of the art of robotics as we see it today. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, he took me down fascinating avenues I had not previously considered. For example, if we give robots a degree of autonomy in their actions, we cannot therefore be certain of their behaviour in every situation, which means we can't be absolutely sure they will be safe. As another example, robots are being developed which use biological processes such as microbial "digestion" to provide power. As a third example, the ethics of robots are considered: what happens if we design an artificial robotic companion? It would never get angry or frustrated with (say) a demented adult, but a naive person such as a child might not be able to conceptualise the robot's apparent emotions as an artificial facsimile.
As someone whose knowledge of robotics was limited to endless hours of sci-fi TV, it was fascinating to see the book delineate the gap between reality and science-fiction. The mechanical and engineering problems (robots which can walk on two legs, or cluster robots which can unite to form a larger unit) are much closer to robust solution than the cognitive problems of robot "intelligence" and "emotion".
Informative and thought-provoking by turns, this book is a worthy addition to this series.
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