The Third Culture

printer friendly version
Edge 72

re: Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind

" . . . a unique, authoritative exercise in extrapolation, easily understood yet stunning in scope . . . Anyone looking for a head-bending excursion beyond the cutting edge of science will find ample thought-provoking material in this outstanding book."
The Washington Post

"...intellectually adventurous and free with confident futuristic speculations."
New York Times Book Review

"...a dramatic, awe-inspiring prophecy of the human future by Hans Moravec, computer scientist and robotics guru extraordinaire . . . an uncompromisingly radical synthesis of sociobiology, computer science, and philosophy . . . paints a head-bending but persuasive picture of our next 50 years, augmented with fascinating fragments from the more distant future."

"The story Moravec weaves is fascinating."

"No reader will want to miss out on Moravec's clairvoyant perception of tomorrow's universe."
Lingua Franca


Like little ripples on the surface of a deep, turbulent pool, calculation and other kinds of procedural thought are possible only when the turbulence is quelled. Humans achieve quiescence imperfectly by intense concentration. Much easier to discard the pesky abyss altogether: ripples are safer in a shallow pan. Numbers are better manipulated as calculus stones or abacus beads than in human memory.

By Hans Moravec

Introduction by
John Brockman

Hans Moravec has been thinking about machines thinking since he was a child in the 1950s, building his first robot, a construct of tin cans, batteries, lights and a motor, at age ten. In high school he won two science fair prizes for a light-following electronic turtle and a tape-controlled robot hand.

As an undergraduate he designed a computer to control fancier robots, and experimented with learning and automatic programming on commercial machines. During his master's work he built a small robot with whiskers and photoelectric eyes controlled by a minicomputer, and wrote a thesis on a computer language for artificial intelligence. He received a PhD from Stanford in 1980 for a TV-equipped robot, remote controlled by a large computer, that negotiated cluttered obstacle courses.

Since 1980 he has been director of the Carnegie Mellon University Mobile Robot Laboratory, birthplace of mobile robots deriving 3D spatial awareness from cameras, sonars, and other sensors.

His books consider the future prospects for humans, robots and intelligence. He has published many papers in robotics, computer graphics, multiprocessors, space travel and other speculative areas.

HANS MORAVEC is a Principal Research Scientist in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, and Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind.

Click here for Hans Moravec's Edge bio page

Join the Edge public forum at

Ripples and Puddles
By Hans Moravec

Computers were invented recently to mechanize tedious manual informational procedures. Such procedures were themselves invented only during the last ten millennia, as agricultural civilizations outgrew village-scale social instincts. The instincts arose in our hominid ancestors during several million years of life in the wild, and were themselves built on perceptual and motor mechanisms that had evolved in a vertebrate lineage spanning hundreds of millions of years.

Bookkeeping and its elaborations exploit ancestral faculties for manipulating objects and following instructions. We recognize written symbols in the way our ancestors identified berries and mushrooms, operate pencils like they wielded hunting sticks, and learn to multiply and integrate by parts as they acquired village procedures for cooking and tentmaking.