We: Robot

Reading Tales of Yog-Sothoth and The Book of Yig, I was reminded there were a few holes in my book reading, both fiction and non-fiction, of David Hambling. I bought this one when it came out about three years ago.

Review: We: Robot: The Robots That Already Rule Our World, David Hambling, 2018.

Yes, this book is already three years old, but it hasn’t dated that much. Indeed, some of the robots Hambling talks about were out in the world for more than three years when he wrote this. As far as I know, some of these robots are still research beds and not mass-produced and out in the wild.

The range of robots is great and, unless you’ve been following this stuff closely (which, admittedly I don’t), surprising. There are, of course, the robot vacuum cleaners and Amazon warehouse robots which are fairly well known. But, in the “Robots at Work” section, we also hear about a robotic pipeline inspection system, the Swagbot that tends cattle herds, and a robot milking machine. In “Robots in Your Life”, we learn about robotic surgical systems, automated lawnmowers, and exoskeletons for the disabled. In “Robots Beyond”, we hear about more experimental designs – though one, the Curiosity Rover on Mars is certainly in operation. Here we learn about robotic dolphins and soft-bodied robots that can crawl through, say, collapsed buildings.

And, of course, we have Hambling’s journalistic specialty, “Robots at War”. We learn not only about flying drones that can kill you while leaving a fellow passenger in a car unscathed but also about robot sentries and pack animals, and covert infiltration robots.

The format for all the entries is one color photograph, one drawing, and two pages of text for each robot. Each section is introduced with two pages. Hambling addresses the problem each robot is intended to solve. We learn some of the technical issues that had to be overcome or yet remain, particularly battery power. And we get some trivia. For instance, do you know when robots first killed someone? That would be the unfortunate Robert Williams, killed by a bot in January 1979 at a Ford plant.

Hambling also notes that many of these machines are not truly autonomous robots but remotely directed machines. He also notes, particularly with the military robots, some of the ethical questions about their further development and use.  

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