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This is science fiction without the fiction--and more mind-bending than anything you ever saw on Star Trek. Moravec, a professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, envisions a not-too-distant future in which robots of superhuman intelligence have picked up the evolutionary baton from their human creators and headed out into space to colonize the universe.
This isn't anything that a million sci-fi paperbacks haven't already envisioned. The difference lies in Moravec's practical-minded mapping of the technological, economic, and social steps that could lead to that vision. Starting with the modest accomplishments of contemporary robotics research, he projects a likely course for the next 40 years of robot development, predicting the rise of superintelligent, creative, emotionally complex cyberbeings and the end of human labor by the middle of the next century.
After Moravec makes this point, his projections start to get really wild: robot corporations will take up residence in outer space with rogue cyborgs; planet-size robots will cruise the solar system looking for smaller bots to assimilate; and eventually every atom in the entire galaxy will be transformed into data-storage space, with a full-scale simulation of human civilization running as a subroutine somewhere.
His last chapter, which mingles the latest in avant-garde physics with hints of Borges's most intoxicating metaphysical conceits, is a breathtaking piece of hallucinatory eschatology. Moravec concludes by reminding us that even the wildest long-range predictions about the technological future never turn out to be as unhinged as they should have been. --Julian Dibbell [via]