Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy
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“[An] essential book… it is required reading as we seriously engage one of the most important debates of our time.”—Sherry Turkle, author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
From drones to Mars rovers—an exploration of the most innovative use of robots today and a provocative argument for the crucial role of humans in our increasingly technological future.
In Our Robots, Ourselves, David Mindell offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the cutting edge of robotics today, debunking commonly held myths and exploring the rapidly changing relationships between humans and machines.
Drawing on firsthand experience, extensive interviews, and the latest research from MIT and elsewhere, Mindell takes us to extreme environments—high atmosphere, deep ocean, and outer space—to reveal where the most advanced robotics already exist. In these environments, scientists use robots to discover new information about ancient civilizations, to map some of the world’s largest geological features, and even to “commute” to Mars to conduct daily experiments. But these tools of air, sea, and space also forecast the dangers, ethical quandaries, and unintended consequences of a future in which robotics and automation suffuse our everyday lives.
Mindell argues that the stark lines we’ve drawn between human and not human, manual and automated, aren’t helpful for understanding our relationship with robotics. Brilliantly researched and accessibly written, Our Robots, Ourselves clarifies misconceptions about the autonomous robot, offering instead a hopeful message about what he calls “rich human presence” at the center of the technological landscape we are now creating.
invaluable in locating the wreck and navigating across it. Most important, the video finally gave the team the sense of presence Ballard was looking for. “Certainly all of us in the control van felt we were down there with Argo,” Ballard wrote in his memoir. “Our scanning human eyes and restlessly curious brains had been transported to the ocean bottom. The rest of our vulnerable human bodies remained above the crushing depths in the comfortable air conditioned control van. . . . The screens
traditional ROV like Jason, but rather an HROV or “hybrid” ROV called Nereus, that can operate in a remote (cabled) or autonomous (untethered) mode. And like Jason, Nereus works off a surface ship, and so is never more than a few miles from its human operators. Sadly, in 2014 Nereus was lost at the Kermadec Trench off New Zealand, probably crushed by the immense pressure at its working depth of 10,000 meters (more than six miles). No one was hurt. Remote presence on the seafloor seems the
formal documentation and procedures gave the whole affair a chaotic air that did not improve morale. Above the entrance to their base outside of Las Vegas, crews of the 11th posted a sign: “Leper Colony.” Unarmed tactical surveillance and reconnaissance missions already had low status within the air force, and the unmanned nature of Predator just pushed them further down the ladder of social prestige. Predator still seemed like a toy. Most pilots wanted nothing more than to put in their time and
telescope for further visual inspection. Early in the mission, Hoffman would tell Nicollier how to move him; as the mission progressed Nicollier learned to anticipate Hoffman’s actions and to move him before he asked, silently coordinating. At one point, in what became known as “the great screw chase,” a small screw escaped a tool bag and began to float outside the cargo bay—a potential danger to the Hubble or the shuttle’s delicate mechanisms. Nicollier moved Hoffman far outside the cargo bay
attention to the fact that the aircraft was under computer control during the bombing run, but it is implicit in the narrative. Nonrated pilots still had to have civilian commercial pilot ratings: Wayne Chappelle, Kent McDonald, and Katharine McMillan, “Important and Critical Psychological Attributes of USAF MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper Pilots According to Subject Matter Experts.” Air Force Research Laboratory 711th Human Performance Wing, May 2011. AFRL-SA-WP-TR-2011-0002. (USAF), U.S. Air