Book Review: "Edison's Eve", A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life

I've just finished Edison's Eve by Gaby Wood. The book traces the conception and development of mechanical life -- better described as automata rather than robots -- but with a nod to how ideas from the Enlightenment era could have brought about some of the state-of-the-art robotics and AI research being done today.

The introduction is actually my favorite part of the book. Wood goes into the philosophy behind many early designs of artificial life and mechanical people, stemming from humanity's quest to better understand itself through creation (one of my favorite themes of sci-fi and part of the reason I'm so geeked out about robots). She also goes behind the scenes at MIT's AI lab (albeit the 2002 version -- much has changed since then). There's a great quote from then-director Rodney Brooks, describing the challenges we face in creating something like us when we don't truly understand what we are:

"[maybe] we're just too ... ignorant. We're sitting here on this flat earth, contemplating the heavens above -- if we think we're on a flat earth, we're just not asking the right questions."

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