Almost Human – a book review

Almost Human, written by award-wining author Leo Gutking, and published by W.W. Norton and company is a book that follows researchers at Carnegie Mellon and portrays the day to day struggles that roboticists face

Almost Human

The title and the picture on the jacket are misleading. The robots described in this book are not almost human, they are not even humanoid robots, they are vehicles. A more accurate title might be “Failed attempts by Carnegie Mellon researchers to build autonomous vehicles.

This book has received many great reviews. This is not one of them though. Robotics is very difficult science, and failure is part of it. The author was attempting to convey to the reader, all of the problems that the researchers face. All of the things that should have worked but didn’t, and all of the bad luck.

To me though, the researchers came across as being inept, or what the French would call “Les Incompetante“. They could not seem to get anything to work, EVER!

Just like the researchers in this book the author had his own misfortune. This book was published in 2006 – a year too soon. In November 2007 Carnegie Melon’s team led by Red Whittaker won the DARPA challenge and the $2 million prize when their vehicle “Boss” successfully made its way through a course in a suburban neighborhood setting. Boss, a robotized 2007 Chevy Tahoe, followed California driving laws as it navigated the course and in a safe and stable manner. People watching the event said that in watching Boss negotiate the course so easily, you would forget that their was nobody inside the vehicle driving. This was a stunning success for the Carnegie Mellon team.

 I still think that this book is worth reading. My favorite part of the book was the very last paragraph.



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