This volume explores automatons, computing, mechanical engineering, automation in the Industrial Revolution, digital technology, the search for artificial intelligence, and technological singularity—a hypothetical future point when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization. We are not there yet, but we do have computers doing our bidding (i.e., Alexa and Roomba), drones replacing the FedEx driver, and supermarket robots warning you of danger in aisle 4. Public opinion on AI is wide ranging, especially in regard to the challenges it presents to personal and corporate privacy, keeping it legal, and making ethical decisions.
This new edition starts with a detailed Introduction that defines the concepts of robotics and artificial intelligence and places their origins with the first tools made by man and the mythologies of ancient civilizations. A comprehensive Timeline is next, highlighting significant robotic and AI events from the first Greek myths about automatons in 8000 BCE to a 2020 announcement by Amazon about adding new AI capabilities to Amazon Echo.
Following the Timeline are 28 chapters that follow are a fascinating account of humanity’s complicated relationship with these increasingly present technologies. Envisioned by early civilizations as creations that could overcome human limitations and defend societies, modern robotics and AI have in fact achieved these goals in some measure. Advances in robotic surgery and prosthetics have augmented the human body. Robots are now used to do dangerous jobs like surveying volcanoes, diffusing bombs, cleaning up nuclear waste, and exploring space. As researchers push the limits of robotics and AI, they gather insight into the human mind and body. The attempt to create true artificial intelligence has resulted in discoveries about the human brain and how we process language. And automated military technologies like drones make it less necessary to put soldiers in life-threatening situations.
On the flip side, robotics in industrial settings has resulted in the loss of millions of jobs worldwide and, as artificial intelligence progresses, it will make inroads into other sectors besides manufacturing industries. Drone warfare has become increasingly controversial, not least because of civilian casualties. When ELIZA—the first “chatterbot” or “chatbot”— was developed in 1966 to simulate a psychotherapist, many patients believed ELIZA to be a real therapist and shared intimate personal details. This tendency to ascribe human characteristics to robots and artificial intelligences, now known as the ELIZA effect, informs both positive and negative reactions to these emerging technologies. As of 2020, despite significant gains, artificial intelligence programs can only create the illusion of sentience, mimicking human conversation and facial expressions. But “technological singularity”—a possible future in which these technologies have advanced beyond human control, changing civilization in unforeseeable ways—evokes both excitement and dread.
The text of the chapter relates the source documents to their historical context, and details contemporary public opinion. Most source documents are reprinted in their entirety and are clearly distinguished by a shaded title bar. Photos and other images enhance the text, and sidebars provide an often lighter perspective on the time period being discussed. Pull quotes and other visual elements increase accessibility. Each chapter ends with a brief Conclusion, thoughtful Discussion Questions, and a list of Works Used.
This exciting new series offers a wide range of insights into long-standing issues that Americans are most concerned about, and those that have encouraged vigorous debate among politicians and citizens at large. Using carefully chosen original documents that cover a wide time span, Opinions Throughout History weaves a thoughtful and easy-to-understand analysis of how public opinion is formed and evolves, starting the discussion at a historical, seminal moment, and ending with where we stand today.
This comprehensive, timely volume is a must for large public libraries, university libraries and social science departments, along with high school libraries.
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