New Books in Science

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episode 72: Ruth Aylett and Patricia A. Vargas, "Living with Robots: What Every Anxious Human Needs to Know" (MIT Press, 2021)


There's a lot of hype about robots; some of it is scary and some of it utopian. In this accessible book, two robotics experts reveal the truth about what robots can and can't do, how they work, and what we can reasonably expect their future capabilities to be. It will not only make you think differently about the capabilities of robots; it will make you think differently about the capabilities of humans.

Ruth Aylett and Patricia Vargas discuss the history of our fascination with robots—from chatbots and prosthetics to autonomous cars and robot swarms. They show us the ways in which robots outperform humans and the ways they fall woefully short of our superior talents. They explain how robots see, feel, hear, think, and learn; describe how robots can cooperate; and consider robots as pets, butlers, and companions. Finally, they look at robots that raise ethical and social issues: killer robots, sexbots, and robots that might be gunning for your job. Living with Robots: What Every Anxious Human Needs to Know (MIT Press, 2021) equips readers to look at robots concretely—as human-made artifacts rather than placeholders for our anxieties.

Find out: •Why robots can swim and fly but find it difficult to walk •Which robot features are inspired by animals and insects•Why we develop feelings for robots •Which human abilities are hard for robots to emulate.

Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland. To discuss and propose the book for an interview you can reach her at galina.limorenko@epfl.ch.

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