This review was originally published in Wired, “Peer Review,” in October 2002.
As one of the world’s leading roboticists, Rodney Brooks (Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Chairman of the successful iRobot Corporation) is also the consummate teacher.
He has a penchant for clear explanation and in his latest book, Flesh and Machines, How Robots Will Change Us, Brooks lucidly explores a wide range of themes related to his life with robots.
These range from personal anecdotes (e.g., his first encounter with another legendary robot builder, Hans Moravec, who was then living in his Stanford laboratory and musing about exotic topics ranging from sky hooks to tree-like robots), historical vignettes (e.g., Marvin Minsky’s unsuccessful attempt to solve the computer “vision” problem in a single Summer in 1966), algorithmic insights (e.g., how his Genghis robot achieved “animal-like behavior” from a few dozen simple programs operating in parallel), philosophical musings (e.g., what is the true nature of consciousness, “apart from our own personal experience of what it is like to be us?”), and ethical dilemmas (e.g., when will we need to stop treating robots like slaves).
The book ranges far and wide, but maintains a unity around the author’s passion for creating what he calls “situated creatures,” which we can eventually regard as our teachers and companions.