In This Review

Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
By Hans P. Moravec
Oxford University Press, 1998, 224 pp

A founder of Carnegie Mellon's world-class robotics program, Moravec treats his subject with the enthusiasm of a parent for his child, proclaiming that robots will replace human beings in a century or less. Even if the reader makes allowances for the author's excitement, statements like "the immensities of cyberspace will be teeming with unhuman superminds, engaged in affairs that are to human concerns as ours are to those of bacteria" seem a tad overblown. But Moravec should be given his due. Even skeptical and less-whimsical readers will find the first four chapters of the book an interesting introduction to the history of robotics. When it comes to computers that move and act, Moravec knows his subject -- despite his unqualified assertions about all aspects of systematic knowledge, from the origins of society to the nature of reality itself. All the hype aside, the truth is that a machine that can beat Gary Kasparov in chess is pretty smart, and that is merely the forerunner of machines to come.