Award-winning journalist David Ewing Duncan considers 24 visions of possible human-robot futures—Incredible scenarios from Teddy Bots to Warrior Bots, and Politician Bots to Sex Bots—Grounded in real technologies and possibilities and inspired by our imagination.
What robot and AI systems are being built and imagined right now? What do they say about us, their creators? Will they usher in a fantastic new future, or destroy us? What do some of our greatest thinkers, from physicist Brian Greene and futurist Kevin Kelly to inventor Dean Kamen, geneticist George Church, and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, anticipate about our human-robot future? For even as robots and A.I. intrigue us and make us anxious about the future, our fascination with robots has always been about more than the potential of the technology–it’s also about what robots tell us about being human.
Science journalist Duncan (Experimental Man) takes a lighter approach to a serious issue the future relationship between humankind and thinking machines than readers drawn to it might appreciate. Building on the ideas of current thinkers, including Brian Greene, Dean Kamen, and Craig Venter, Duncan touches on concerns such as the limits (if any) of AI, and the impact of robot workers replacing most human ones. Duncan presents each chapter from the perspective of a visitor from the future, an initially intriguing premise that ultimately ill-serves the serious ethical problems he raises, such as whether negative memories should be preserved by a device able to preserve an individual's entire memory, or if autism represents a condition in need of curing, as posited by a neurologist's 2018 proposal for an "Opti-Brain" that would "collect real-time data on everything imaginable to do with your brain, physiology, and environment." Instead, silly satirical scenarios, such as President Trump's replacement by a robot doppelg nger, or autonomous military computers reenacting the ending of the Matthew Broderick movie WarGames, undermine the discussion. As a result, Duncan's book comes off as a missed opportunity to make the complexities surrounding artificial intelligence accessible by leavening, but not overwhelming, a topical subject with humor.