From Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, to C-3PO of the Star Wars trilogy, to the comic robot-butler in Woody Allen's Sleeper, the "android" has long been a familiar figure on the American imaginative landscape. But how far removed from reality are such fictitious creations? Will there ever be an intelligent robot in our future? Neural networks expert Maureen Caudill says yes. In fact, she argues that the development of intelligent androids is a mere twenty years away.
In Our Own Image reveals just how far we've come in developing an intelligent robot, describes what technical obstacles must still be cleared, and--perhaps most interesting of all--outlines the potentially massive social disruptions and tangled moral and legal dilemmas these "human machines" will cause. In a sweeping look at state-of-the-art breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, computer science, psychology, and neural networks, Caudill shows how these fields have advanced machine vision, language recognition, problem solving, memory, and other requisites of intelligent robots. She describes foot-long mechanical ants that can follow you around a room, robots that can crack eggs, shear sheep, play ping-pong, tighten wing-nuts, and other feats of dexterity. (One robot, WABOT-2, developed in Japan, can read simple sheet music and played the electric organ with the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Japan.) electric organ.) And she concludes that as our ability to make faster, smaller, cheaper computers blends with our ability to mimic the behavior of the human mind, the first truly intelligent machines come closer to fruition. But once an android has been perfected, Caudill warns, there will likely be some unexpected--and perhaps unpleasant--social changes. Androids may compete with human workers for jobs--and robots won't take vacations, won't have family problems, and might never leave the firm. Androids may also entangle our legal system in complex, difficult questions: Can an individual own an intelligent android? What rights should it have in society? Does ownership of an android imply the right to turn it off--the right to "kill" it? And does such ownership brand us as slaveholders?
The existence of intelligent androids will provoke these and other questions. Caudill concludes that we will soon be forced to come up with answers if we are to learn to share the world with another intelligent species--one of our own creation.