With robots, we are inventing a new species that is part material and part digital. The ambition of modern robotics goes beyond copying humans, beyond the effort to make walking, talking androids that are indistinguishable from people. Future robots will have superhuman abilities in both the physical and digital realms. They will be embedded in our physical spaces, with the ability to go where we cannot, and will have minds of their own, thanks to artificial intelligence. They will be fully connected to the digital world, far better at carrying out online tasks than we are. In Robot Futures, the roboticist Illah Reza Nourbakhsh considers how we will share our world with these creatures, and how our society could change as it incorporates a race of stronger, smarter beings.
Nourbakhsh imagines a future that includes adbots offering interactive custom messaging; robotic flying toys that operate by means of “gaze tracking”; robot-enabled multimodal, multicontinental telepresence; and even a way that nanorobots could allow us to assume different physical forms. Nourbakhsh follows each glimpse into the robotic future with an examination of the underlying technology and an exploration of the social consequences of the scenario.
Each chapter describes a form of technological empowerment—in some cases, empowerment run amok, with corporations and institutions amassing even more power and influence and individuals becoming unconstrained by social accountability. (Imagine the hotheaded discourse of the Internet taking physical form.) Nourbakhsh also offers a counter-vision: a robotics designed to create civic and community empowerment. His book helps us understand why that is the robot future we should try to bring about.
About the Author
Illah Reza Nourbakhsh is Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, where he also directs the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab. He is a coauthor of Introduction to Autonomous Mobile Robots (MIT Press).
"The best parts of the book are the crazy scenarios Nourbakhsh comes up with—like malfunctioning eye-controlled toy helicopters and robot-enabled infidelity. His preference for a future in which robots are employed to serve communities, not individuals or corporations, is innovative—if less fun than the nightmare robots that populate his chapters."—Slate
"In robotics, there is a fine line between science fiction and science fact. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh turns out to be a master of straddling that line. In this accessible, smart book, he suggests how plausible robot futures could change our lives."—George Annas, New Scientist
"Concise and illuminating with few detours into engineering-speak, this book will interest a broad technology-minded audience, from future scientists to data analysts to entrepreneurs."—Publishers Weekly
"Robot Futures is a highly imaginative view of the ways robotics may change both our technology and our view of ourselves. Every chapter begins with a fictional but plausible future scenario involving human/robot interaction. Anyone concerned with the potential impact of robotics on society and human relationships should read this book."
—George A. Bekey, Computer Science Department, University of Southern California; author of Autonomous Robots
"An exhilarating dash into the future of robotics from a scholar with the enthusiasm of a bag of monkeys. It is gripping from the start with little sci-fi stories in each chapter punching home points backed up forcefully by factual reality. This is an entertaining tour de force that will appeal to anyone with an interest in robots."
—Noel Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, University of Sheffield