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Site Shop > Almost Human: Making Robots Think

Creative non-fiction guru and seasoned immersion journalist Gutkind observes that just as computers changed the world in the 1990s, robots will transform technology in the near future. To find out who is behind the growing robotic surge, Gutkind spent six years observing life at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

He watched a group of scientists?mostly grad students?try to develop human movement and decision-making capabilities. The machines he encountered came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from dog-shaped toys programmed to play soccer to a Hummer equipped with sensors that enabled it to drive itself, and come in third, in the DARPA urban challenge.

As that Hummer indicates, the institute's research isn't confined to the lab: Gutkind follows his roboticists to abandoned mine shafts and the northern edges of Chile, where they use the world's driest desert to test machines developed to find signs of life on the surface of Mars. Gutkind's reporting captures the individual quirks of the scientists?like one researcher who only shaves on Sundays to save time during the week for his research?but his low-key tone can mute the excitement of their successes, especially given the fail-fix-try-again nature of most of their projects.


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