The high bay at the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University is alive and hyper night and day with the likes of Hyperion, which traversed the Antarctic, and Zoe, the world's first robot scientist, now back home. Robot Segways learn to play soccer, while other robots go on treasure hunts or are destined for hospitals and museums. Dozens of cavorting mechanical creatures, along with tangles of wire, tools, and computer innards are scattered haphazardly. All of these zipping and zooming gizmos are controlled by disheveled young men sitting on the floor, folding chairs, or tool cases, or huddled over laptops squinting into displays with manic intensity. Award-winning author Lee Gutkind immersed himself in this frenzied subculture, following these young roboticists and their bold conceptual machines from Pittsburgh to NASA and to the most barren and arid desert on earth. He makes intelligible their discoveries and stumbling points in this lively behind-the-scenes work.
"An in-depth glimpse into the exciting, if embryonic, developments in one of the world's leading robotics laboratories, where today's robots now play games and get trained to drive vehicles and scout landscapes, and tomorrow's robots will be created."
-LAWRENCE KRAUSS, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the School of Earth & Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and author of The Physics of Star Trek and Hiding in the Mirror.
"An eloquent meditiation on the fragile and increasingly friable line between flesh and metal, dendrites and wires. The book tells the tale of mad scientist and the strangely sane machines they create; in doing so, it illuminates the rarified world of computer science while simultaneously transcending it, or widening it, by bringing to light the essential questions robots raise for us--questions of autonomy, of cognition, of ambition and the toll it takes."
-LAUREN SLATER, author of Opening Skinner's Box and Blue Beyond Blue
"What emerges in "Almost Human" is a fascinating, frustrating, sad story. The Carnegie- Mellon researchers have big dreams. They work incredibly hard. But the deeper Mr. Gutkind immerses himself in their projects, the more he realizes that they aren't rolling from one triumph to another. Instead, their labs seem cursed by failure."
-THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
"Gutkind's reporting captures the individual quirks of the scientists...it gives a solid sense of what's going on in the field."