The text updates and expands last decade's Mind Children. Since that book was published in 1988, machines have defeated the world chess champion, driven vans across thousands of miles of public roads, found theorem proofs sought by mathematicians for a half century, composed music that sophisticated listeners found pleasant and interesting, and earned livings making scientific, medical and financial decisions. These accomplishments had eluded researchers in the previous three decades. A major factor in the recent successes is the availability of about 100 times more computer power than before. The available power is now doubling every year, and a rapid evolution of machine intelligence is underway. The new book documents, extrapolates and evaluates the prospects.
Chapter 2 reviews the state of the robot art, like a baby poised for sudden growth. The following chapters mix predictions with suggested actions. Barring cataclysms, I consider the development of intelligent machines a near-term inevitability, examined in Chapters 3 and 4. Like airplanes, but unlike spaceships or radio, they will be a direct imitation of something already existing biologically. Every technical step towards intelligent robots has a rough evolutionary counterpart, and each is likely to benefit its creators, manufacturers and users. Each advance will provide intellectual rewards, competitive advantages and increased wealth and options of all kinds. Each can make the world a nicer place to live. At the same time, by performing better than humanly possible, the robots will displace humans from essential roles. Rather quickly, they could displace us from existence. I'm not as alarmed as many by the latter possibility, since I consider these future machines our progeny, "mind children" built in our image and likeness, ourselves in more potent form. Like biological children of previous generations, they will embody humanity's best hope for a long-term future. It behooves us to give them every advantage, and to bow out when we can no longer contribute.
But, as also with biological children, we can probably arrange for a comfortable retirement before we fade away. Some biological children can be convinced to care for elderly parents. Similarly, "tame" superintelligences could be created and induced to protect and support for us, for a while. Such relationships require advance planning and diligent maintenance. Chapter 5 offers suggestions.
It is the "wild" intelligences, however, those beyond our constraints, to whom the future belongs. The available tools for peeking into that strange future--extrapolation, analogy, abstraction and reason--are, of course, totally inadequate. Yet, even they suggest surreal happenings. In Chapter 6 robots sweep into space in a colonizing wave, but then disappear in a wake of increasingly pure thinking stuff. A "Mind Fire" burns across the universe in Chapter 7. Physical law loses its primacy to purposes, goals, interpretations and God knows what else.