If you believe the children are our future, you're only half right. Photographer Peter Menzel and journalist Faith D'Aluisio traveled around the world interviewing researchers who want to jump-start our evolution by designing and building electrical and mechanical extensions of ourselves--robots. Their book, Robo Sapiens
, takes its title from the notion that our species might somehow merge with our creations, either literally or symbiotically. The photography is brilliant, showing the endearing and creepy sides of the robots and roboticists and feeling like stills from unmade science-fiction films. D'Aluisio's interviews are insightful and often very funny, as when she calls MIT superstar Rodney Brooks on his statement that we ought not "overanthropomorphize" people. Brooks is an interesting study. Having shaken up the robotics and artificial-intelligence fields with his elimination of high-level intelligence and dedication to tiny, insectoid, built-from-the-ground-up robots, he now works on large, human-mimicking machines. But hundreds of other researchers, in Japan, Europe, and the United States, are working on various aspects of machine behavior, from the eerily lifelike robotic faces of Fumio Hara and Alvaro Villa to the monkeylike movement of Brachiator III; each of them casts a bit of light on the future of their field in their short interviews. Though it's clear that we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for a robot butler, Robo Sapiens
suggests that much cooler--and stranger--events are coming soon. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
"Today's robots... are explorers, space laborers, surgeons, maids, actors, pets." What do they look like? How do they work? And what's next? Tech photographer Menzel and journalist D'Aluisio worked together on Material World and Man Eating Bugs. Their latest collaboration joins terrific photos of robotsA176 color pictures of themAto short essays, sidebars and interviews explaining what each robot can do, how it works and what problems it was designed to solve. Several researchers tell D'Aluisio that true artificial intelligence (AI) is coming soonAa couple even believe that smart machines will someday wipe out humans. But this volume doesn't really add up to an argument about our mechanoid future: instead, it's an informativeAand handsomeAview of some current work in robotics, from out-there AI research to practical (and profitable) surgical technology. Menzel and D'Aluisio divide the machines they chronicle into six groups: the first two sets try to copy human abilities, while other sorts of 'bots function more like machines in industry or in science education. Many gizmos have special abilities of obvious, even lifesaving, practical use: "Ariel the crab-robot... walks pretty well underwater"; eventually, it will detect and clear mines. "Rosie," a remote boom crane robot, can help control damage from a reactor meltdown. Other constructions simulate human and animal actions, like running and walkingAa field called "biomimicry." More impressive yet are robots designed to investigate psychology and cognition; some of these are learningAand teaching their creatorsAwhat it means to be human. MIT researcher Cynthia Breazel introduces us to Kismet, a Kermit-the-Frog-esque 'droid whose big-eyed, goofy "facial expressions" (in her words) "tune the human's behavior so that it is appropriate for the robotAnot too much, not too little, just right."
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.