9. ‘SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE CHIPS …’: MACHINIC EVOLUTION, THE RISE OF ROBOTS AND STRONG A.I.
So far in the module we have considered the human relationship to technology and machines and the possibility of using technology to improve or transcend the human body and its limits. In this lecture we’ll look in detail at another important issue –the evolution of machines themselves, the possibility of a robotic future and of evolved intelligent machinic life. In week two we explored issues around vitalism and the view of machines as organic, as life and even as evolving. The starting point here is that vitalistic perspective, especially as it’s described in Butler’s 1872 satirical novel Erewhon which includes a remarkable analysis of machinic evolution. From there we’ll explore the history of robotics and debates around artificial intelligence to ask whether the dreams of science fiction authors over the last century might, after all be more than fiction.
Begin with Butler, S. (1974) Erewhon, London: Penguin Books, chs., 23-25, ‘The Book of the Machines’, at: http://www.hoboes.com/html/FireBlade/Butler/Erewhon/erewhon23.html
Then look at:
Brooks, R. (2002) Robot. The Future of Flesh and Machines, London: Penguin.
Perkowitz, S. (2004) Digital People. From Bionic Humans to Androids, Washington: Joseph Henry Press.
For further reading on robotics and on A.I., in practice or in theory, try:.
Boden, M. A. (1990) The Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Copeland, J. (1993) Artificial Intelligence. A Philosophical Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell
Hayles, N. K. (2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22 (1): 131-151.
Capps, R. (2004) ‘The Humanoid Race’, in Wired, July, at:
(2006) ‘The 50 Best Robots Ever’, in Wired, January, at: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.01/robots.html
Carter, M. (2007) Minds and Computers. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Dreyfus, H. (1992) What Computers Still Can’t Do. A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, London: MIT Press. (see also What Computers Can’t Do, 1972 and 1979 editions and his article
‘Alchemy and Artificial Intelligence’ from 1964 if you can find it).
Kelly, K. (1994) Out of Control, London: Fourth Estate Ltd.
McCarthy, J. (2004) ‘What is Artificial Intelligence’, at:
Minsky, M. (1988) Society of Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster
(2006) The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial intelligence and the Future of the Human Mind, New York: Simon and Schuster.
Richards, J. W. (ed.) (2002) Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press.
Searle, J. (1980) ‘Minds, Brains and Programs’, (the ‘Chinese Room’ argument),
Turing, A. (1950) ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’, (his original article),
Warwick, K. (1997) March of the Machines, London: Century Press.
Bear in mind that robotics and A.I. is a continually developing field. Keep up with the latest developments in robotics on the news and technology websites. Look up robots on my blog for stories over the last year and search for developments up to 2006 online.