The rise of the robots is upon us. For better or worse, they are coming, and as their population grows, we can expect the world as we know it to change forever. This may sound dramatic, but when you spend as much time reading about this as I do, it quickly becomes apparent that, before long, robotics will form an inseparable part of everyday life. When combined with artificial intelligence, the capabilities of robotics extend even further, affecting our work, our homes, our shopping habits, and our vehicles.
There is a lot to learn. Whilst the internet and press provide countless articles on the latest developments, for a deeper understanding, nothing beats a book. These ten titles are my top choices for feeding your head with all you need to know about the robo-lution that’s coming our way. Please do let me know if you know of any others that should be added to the list.
Starting with the first thing you need to know about robotics: Asimov’s 3 Laws, Mckinnon goes on to explore the history of robotics (which, fascinatingly, goes back much farther than you would think). Then, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty: describing the modern hardware components, before getting you started with a crash course in RoboCORE, and finally explaining how you can make your own autonomous wall-climbing robot. A nice, hands-on book for those who like to get beyond the words and gain a practical knowledge of robotics.
This book is a good accompaniment to the one above, giving more detail on the history and the future of robotics, and making it clear that Asimov’s laws need not be adhered to anytime soon.
The ‘Very Short Introduction…’ series of books is like the bread and butter of my student days. The topics the series covers range across a huge plethora of disciplines, and robotics is just one of these. Along with the above two books, this is your ultimate ‘get started’ guide – probably the one to pick up first of all.
Not limited to robotics, The Second Machine Age covers a wide variety of digital technologies and how they will affect our cultural and economic future. The real joy of this book, however, is Brynjolfsson’s suggested strategies for making the societal alterations necessary to prepare us for the coming changes. Whilst a lot of books about the automated future tend to take a dystopian view, this is a fundamentally optimistic book that is at once informative and enthusiastic about what comes next for the human race.
With autonomous weapons firmly in the spotlight, and even being discussed in the UN, this is a key one for the reading list. Aside from all the everyday and industrial applications of robotics, the use of the technology in warfare is huge. Wired for War explores the different technologies being rolled out for military use, and – of course – a discussion of the ethical, political, and legal ramifications of automated weaponry.
You’ve probably heard that we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution already. But what does it mean? Well, essentially, the technological developments we are seeing now are coming at an unprecedented pace and at a level that’s shaking almost every aspect of how we live. So, what’s the impact going to be, and how can we make sure these changes are for the better? This is a truly mesmerising read that will alter the way you look at the world that’s changing around you.
Ethical concerns come up time and again, in popular discussion as you’ll have no doubt seen in the media, and – indeed – in the books listed here. If this is an area that interests you particularly, then this is absolutely the book for you. It covers a lot of the topics discussed in other books on this list, but all together in one handy volume!
Not limited to robotics itself, this book also spans topics as broad as neuroscience, dynamical systems theories, and phenomenology. It is, as you may have gathered, a heavy read. It’s also not terribly cheap, at least on Amazon, so you either need to be super keen to read it, or able to find it somewhere else at a reasonable cost. Suffice to say, this is one that I haven’t read myself, but would be glad to hear from anybody that has.
Now, this is one I definitely have read, and it’s a corker. It’s a pretty well-known title, so getting on board with everyone who has read it is probably a good move if you haven’t yet had the pleasure. Covering both AI and robotics, Martin Ford paints a distinctly terrifying picture of our automated future. You may need to recover after reading this by picking up The Second Machine Age (number 4 on this list).
The use of all sorts of technology in architecture and construction is booming. But robotics is the one that is truly fascinating from both a creative and technical perspective. It’s not a topic that’s been looked at in depth very much, so the unique angle this book offers is certainly one worth exploring, particularly for those with an interest in the way our future cities will look, and also – of course – for architects themselves.
With all the talk of automation killing jobs, not just in low-skilled roles but even at the highest levels, Aoun lays his case for how we should prepare young people for a future that will look quite different to the present. His argument is in-depth and profound, explaining the framework for a new discipline, which he calls Humanics, that aims to prepare students to compete successfully in an automated working world.
A ‘poignant and sharply-argued polemic against US drone warfare’, I highly recommend Chamayou’s book alongside Wired for War (number 5). A philosophical discussion of the moral implications of drone warfare, it’s a deeply troubling work that raises some critical points that need to be addressed.
Following on with the question of machine morals, Wallach examines the hows and whys of passing the human moral compass on to our robot creations. Getting to grips with the nuances of morality has kept philosophers busy for centuries – so explaining to a machine the difference between right and wrong and the grey areas within that is no easy feat.
Gramazio shows up once more, again writing about the use of robotics in architecture. In collaboration with a selection of other contributors, including Philippe Morel, Neri Oxman, François Roche and Antoine Picon, Made by Robots explores the huge transformations that robotics is creating within architecture.
Another subject that seems to keep coming up more and more recently is that taboo topic, robot sex. A joke at best, a perversion at worst, our attitudes to this new and alien development may need an upgrade. Sex robots are coming, whether we like it or not, and beyond the popular culture hype and damnation, so an academic look at what the deal is with all this is all too necessary.
In a lot of these books, robotics seems, at times, to be used interchangeably with AI. This is often the case, so if you’re into robotics as pure and simple mechanics, pick and choose the ones that work for you. On the other hand, if the AI side is what gets your motor running, then check out this separate list I put together here.