Robots, androids, and bionic people pervade popular culture, from classics like Frankenstein and R.U.R. to modern tales such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Terminator, and A.I. Our fascination is obvious and the technology is quickly moving from books and films to real life.
In a lab at MIT, scientists and technicians have created an artificial being named COG. To watch COG interact with the environment to recognize that this machine has actual body language is to experience a hair-raising, gut-level reaction. Because just as we connect to artificial people in fiction, the merest hint of human-like action or appearance invariably engages us.
Digital People examines the ways in which technology is inexorably driving us to a new and different level of humanity. As scientists draw on nanotechnology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and materials science, they are learning how to create beings that move, think, and look like people. Others are routinely using sophisticated surgical techniques to implant computer chips and drug-dispensing devices into our bodies, designing fully functional man-made body parts, and linking human brains with computers to make people healthier, smarter, and stronger.
In short, we are going beyond what was once only science fiction to create bionic people with fully integrated artificial components and it will not be long before we reach the ultimate goal of constructing a completely synthetic human-like being.
It seems quintessentially human to look beyond our natural limitations. Science has long been the lens through which we squint to discern our future. Although we are rightfully fearful about manipulating the boundaries between animate and inanimate, the benefits are too great to ignore. This thoughtful and provocative book shows us just where technology is taking us, in directions both wonderful and terrible, to ponder what it means to be human.
Named to Library Journal's Best Sci-Tech Books for General Readers list for 2004
is a comprehensive yet compact survey of robotics and bionics. Rather than intoning the usual litany of robots, Perkowitz sensibly organizes his book function by function... He offers an entertaining potted history of bionics beginning with the Hindu queen Vishpla (circa 2000 B.C.), who replaced a leg lost in battle with an iron one."
-- New York Times Book Review
, May 16, 2004
"Perkowitz, professor of physics at Emory University, takes the reader on an absorbing journey through the history of human efforts to duplicate human functions."
-- Scientific American
, August 2004
"A fascinating exploration into 'a technology that is beginning to realize...the creation of partly or fully artificial beings' with a clarity and straightforwardness that Bohr would have approved of. Perkowitz accomplishes this result by refraining from technical jargon and, more importantly, by embracing the language of metaphor, playing off the examples familiar to us from literature, film, and television. And because of these stylistic choices, the book is immensely enjoyable to read, whether one is a scientist, a fan of science fiction, or just someone curious about the science and technology underlying implants, prosthetics, robots, and the like."
-- American Book Review
, May-June 2005
"The author is at his best illuminating the history of artificial life, starting with Talos, the bronze automaton created by Hephaestus in Greek myth, and touching on every fictional work that has shaped the genre. ...as a history of humans' fascination with artificial life--both real and fictional--this book is informative."
-- Publishers Weekly
, March 1, 2004
"Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids
(by Emory University professor Sidney Perkowitz) provides an excellent and indispensable primer for anyone curious about the history of artificial beings both in fiction and reality. ... Digital People
is an eminently valuable resource, and its extensive suggested reading and filmography sections provide lots of jumping-off points for those curious to learn more. ... I highly recommend Digital People
for science fiction fans and armchair scientists alike. It's highly readable and first-rate overview on the subject -- and timely homework in preparation for the big-budget adaptation of I, Robot
-- scifi dimensions
, June 2004
is a helpful book--a straightforward summarization of the myth and magic, science and struggles, ideals and cautions that constitute the history of artificial beings"
-- The Pennsylvania Gazette
, July/August 2004
"...an insightful, careful, contemplation of the ways in which contemporary science and technology are moving toward the next level of human evolution and what these developments mean for our visions of ourselves as human beings. ... Rather than frightful, the story is compelling, thought provoking, and informative. Perkowitz provides a wealth of interesting information, all supported by accurate and sound scientific research and reporting. He expresses his subject clearly, and at the end, presents the inevitable result: 'that any person who works to artificially match or surpass what humanity is, can only feel the hubris fall away, to be replaced with awe at the complexity of what nature has wrought, humility at the difficulty of emulating it, and wonderment that we humans can yet hope to complete this astonishing journey' (219)."
-- Leonardo Reviews
, July 2004
"From pacemakers and prosthetic limbs to breast implants and artificial eyes, the history of artificial life is fascinating and informative. In the end, Digital People
is a spellbinding, if somewhat technical, look at what Perkowitz calls the 'next level of humanity' and what it all means for our vision of ourselves as human beings."
, May 2, 2004
"In a readable, whimsical style, with references to past and present work, popular books, and media (especially films), Perkowitz discusses the history (going back at times as far as 2,000 years), the present, and some possible futures of a plethora of aspects of (for lack of a better term) artificial beings. In other words, this is an informative book for those who always wanted to know more about the history, present state, and future of robotics but never dared to ask (or did not have the time to do the research)."
, November 2004
"Short, breezy, and nicely written, Perkowitz's book raises, but doesn't answer, the myriad ethical and moral questions...But then, those are questions with no easy answers. Mostly however, Digital People
is a fun romp that lays out the historic antecedents -- literary, mythical, and real -- to what's going on in the labs of today..."
, November 2004
"This is Perkowitz at his most engaging, when he steps back from the science and examines the implications. ... Perkowitz's acknowledgement that science fiction has influenced the history of artificial beings as much as vice versa makes Digital People
-- Rain Taxi Review of Books
, Winter 2004/2005
"...easy-to-read... Sidney Perkowitz brings a sense of wonder and fascination to a topic that intrigues many: robotics. ... Perkowitz easily discusses these fictional creations and uses them as a logical stepping point as he talks about the real-life attempts scientists are using to bring this fiction to reality. ... Digital People
crams a lot of information into its slender covers, but Perkowitz presents it all easily, which makes a book like this one invaluable."
-- Magill Book Reviews
, November 2004
"We are in the early stages of merging with our technology, while at the same time, our machines are becoming more like us. Perkowitz tells this compelling story from its roots in Aristotle to our future in superintelligent robots. He makes the case for this inevitable result: we are all becoming cyborgs."
-- Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines
"There is no need to die in the future. Digital People
is a comprehensive compendium about machines and people, about how the distinctions between them will vanish. To be human and intelligent is ultimately a matter of interchangeable parts. Consciousness cannot be tested."
-- Nicholas Negroponte, Chairman & Co-founder, MIT Media Laboratory