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Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  468 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Robots are poised to transform today's society as completely as the Internet did twenty years ago. Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times science writer John Markoff argues that we must decide to design ourselves into our future, or risk being excluded from it altogether.

In the past decade, Google introduced us to driverless cars; Apple debuted Siri, a personal assistant th
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 25th 2015 by Ecco (first published July 1st 2015)
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3.66  · 
Rating details
 ·  468 ratings  ·  74 reviews

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Will Byrnes
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
What’s the problem?
I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
What are you talking about HAL?
This machine is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
- from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Smile for the camera, HAL

This is probably the #1 image most of us of a certain age have concerning the dangers of AI. Whether it is a HAL-9000, or a T-70, T-800, T-888, or T-900 Terminator, a Cylon, a science officer on t
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was not a fit for me at all. It is a big stretch to give it 2 stars. Although I did finish it I skimmed virtually the whole book.
This is one of a number of books published recently about artificial intelligence and robots, a subject I am extremely interested in.
However, I am purely interested in the technology and although the title of the book says it about the machines, 90% was about the people working on the technology and 10% on the technology.
The author is a journalist and his ob
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
John Markoff’s Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots is another addition to the growing stack of books designed to help us think about the relationship between humanity and emerging technologies. Markoff offers a detailed history of artificial intelligence and robotics, and attempts to show how past trends are relevant (or not) to the modern moment. Although the book touches on some important themes, it’s significantly inferior to other texts I’ve read i ...more
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
An exhaustive history of robotics and AI from the 1960s to development of Siri in the 2000s. The author is a journalist and digs deep into personal stories of everyone in early Silicon Valley and not enough into the technology itself.

I started this one last year, took a very long break, and pushed myself to finish.

It could have been so much better. The title made me think it would be.
Nov 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Machines of Loving Grace straddles the realms of a history of robotics and a klaxon warning about where we might be heading.

Markoff starts off when all the computing power contained in a 40x40 foot room wasn’t sufficient to help a machine roll from one wall to the door on the opposite side. We learn that early on there was a dichotomy in how our deep/creative thinkers were considering the role of machines in humankind’s future. According to Markoff, one group (IA) was interested in augmenting o
Rod Van Meter
Sep 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is ambitious: it covers much of AI and robotics history (despite the fact that those are two different, if related, fields), going back to the work of Feigenbaum, Winograd, even Weiner. No, I take that back, it's not strictly a history, and that dichotomy isn't the way Markoff describes it. He sets up Engelbart and McCarthy (both at Stanford for much of their careers) as mortal enemies: the former wants to make tools that extend human capabilities (Intelligence Augmentation, or IA, in ...more
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Markoff's history of Artificial Intelligence [AI] research presents detailed and intersecting stories of the field's influential people and their projects. Most of these people worked at, or between, the twin poles of Stanford and MIT.

As this reader spent many years involved in an IT career, lots of the names and places in this book were familiar to me. [Albeit not personally!]

Besides the east and west cultural differences alluded to above, Markoff presents a philosophical dichotomy which he te
Fred P
Sep 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Author John Markoff has done his research. He covers the history of robotics with a thorough approach, focusing on the people who pushed the science forward, as well as looking at the corporations who buy and promote robotics and their corporate culture.

Sadly, he doesn't bring excitement to the project. We are left with a lot of names and a general feeling of being disconnected. The pace only gets exciting when he talks about the philosophical issues brought out by robotics. You get the idea th
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
I really liked the premise of this book. There is a truly compelling, memetic core in the idea of AI vs. IA and the implications these two schools of software design hold for our future as a society. Unfortunately, the narration in Machines of Loving Grace is much too weak to do the premise justice. The premise almost seems to have been added on after the fact, to justify hours and dollars spent to interview a parade of white, male subjects whose personal stories are, to be frank, not that inter ...more
Andy Oram
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: technology
Most histories are interesting because they embody chance events--oddities that had a low probability, but just happened to change the course of events. Markoff’s book has plenty of these intriguing events. But it remains a diverse collection of many stories, failing to cohere into a single history because there are so many people, companies, labs, and projects involved, tied together in the book loosely and not at all seamlessly. Markoff’s attempt to thread a single theme throughout--the clash ...more
Jim Nail
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
This was not what I had hoped for. I’ve been reading a lot of books about the benefits and dangers of an increasingly cybernetic society- most notably, You are not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier and Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. While John Markoff pays brief homage to both these authors, Machines of Loving Grace is mostly a dry, detailed history of the advent of the electronic age with an emphasis on the distinction between those who envision a future where technology will replace humans (Ray Kurtzw ...more
Kenta Suzuki
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book describes overall history of Artificial Intelligence. John Markoff focuses on AI and IA. The concept of AI is basically machines replacing human, and that of IA, intelligence augmentation, is augmenting human capabilities using machines. It is interesting how people shifted from AI to IA and how famous institutions such as MIT media lab or Stanford have been involved in this history. There are some philosophical questions around the connections of human and machines, which was presente ...more
Jan 20, 2016 added it
Shelves: never-finished
I started off liking the book, but had a really hard time with the way the author jumped through time, genres, and people. Within pages he'd discuss an invention from the 1990s, then throw it back to the 1960s, then reference Blade Runner, and then go back to a technologist's name-- by which point I couldn't remember which decade that person belonged to. I wish the author had either kept each chapter as a thematic vignette or arranged the entire book chronologically. I thought about charting out ...more
Shani Jayant
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting history and context on technologies like autonomous vehicles, robots, Siri etc, but could have easily been half the length. Really hard to get through, so I skimmed a bunch, which is a shame because the book contains extremely relevant content to me here and there. Unnecessary to have so much backstory on each person. I would have liked the author to have dived more deeply into the philosophical issues of AI/IA instead of just ending with a few paragraphs about it in the final chapte ...more
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: robotics
After reading Our Final Invention ('robots are going to kill us') and the more sober Rise of the Robots ('robots are going to take our jobs'), I was hoping this book would offer up some less pessimistic insights on how the future might play out, or how we ought to try to make it play out. Unfortunately this book is entirely history, and any prognostications are just brief quotes from different people involved in the history- the author doesn't offer anything up of his own or even critically exam ...more
Lauren Schnoebelen
I feel like the author knew what he was talking about but at the same time he wasn't sure about anything. It seems like he identified the main topics that he wanted to discuss but after that he wasn't really sure where to go. There was no overarching story or even a time line to follow. The time periods kept jumping around all throughout the book and the closest to publishing date in this book came up in the middle of the second half (maybe sooner) and then jumped right back to somewhere in the ...more
Nick Doty
An interesting history of late Silicon Valley, the thread of artificial intelligence and some more recent HCI. Like many journalists, Markoff is excellent at finding the stories and anecdotes that illustrate these characters. I was drawn to it for the title, from an interesting poem of the time, but it makes only a passing appearance.

Disappointing was how forced every step or anecdote had to be into the same AI vs IA (intelligent augmentation?) framework. Not everything was actually that straigh
Scott Lerch
I enjoyed Markoff's detailed vignettes of AI/IA research over the past 50 years but honestly I have no idea what the book was really about. There is AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelligence Augmented)? It's interesting and changing the world but you must choose one side or the other? Not sure... I mean I guess I never considered the dichotomy between AI and IA so clearly. It's an attractive symmetry but I think in reality the line blurs quickly. When does an auto-correct response turn i ...more
While I found the book interesting, I also found it longer than it needed to be. Markoff seeks to trace the development of the robotics/AI field of research from its beginnings to its latest developments. However, in the reasonable aim to give everyone their due credit he makes the mistake of tracing the career path from college through the multiple companies they worked for. This creates a lot of repetition since each generation had several brilliant technologists and the reader is forced to tr ...more
John Bryan
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book had some interesting strategic direction for the technology and industry of robotics and AI but was primarily just a history of those industries. I was looking for more insight into societal implications or future trends. The book had a bit of both scattered throughout but since it was structured with so much historical content, the strategic ideas were lost in the chaff of timelines and introductions of the industry actors. 4 stars for its content but loses one for the cumbersome messa ...more
Laura Ostermeyer
An outstanding book that delves into the history of AI, IA, robots and computers. There is a tremendous amount of information and some delightful stories. It gave me an increased appreciation of the people who have contributed and worked in these fields and also makes me even more excited about our future.
Yasuo Itoh
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
a good historical review of the progress of technology in the past 40 years and the dichotomy of Artificial Intelligence versus Intelligence Augmentation. Some enjoyable anecdotes make for a techno history that is not a dry read. This is helped by author having a sly sense of irony.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I’m super interested in this content BUT something about this book made it take me almost 4 years to read. Maybe it’s that ITS BASICALLY ALL DUDES mentioned in this book, including glorifying some people who’ve sexually harassed other people (outed after this book was written).
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Valuable historical artifact about many of the key people who've been exploring the boundaries of IA and AI. I was expecting something more technically oriented but once I realized it was more about the creators I enjoyed that ride instead.
Barbaros Kuz
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sevgi Dolu Makineler - İstanbul Gedik Üniversitesi Yayınları
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, excellent.
Interesting, though frequently repetitive and poorly organized, history of artificial intelligence and, less so, robotics.
Sharon Orlopp
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great historical and current context about the division between artificial intelligence and intelligent augmentation.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
It was slow reading but it chronicled the AI versus IA debate very well, something I had only been vaguely aware of before reading this book. The author was very good about making just the right amount of scientific and computer programming information accessible to the reader without getting patronising. I enjoyed the history of artificial intelligence and the background information on its creators. It reported on far-flung theories, such as robots enslaving the human race, without getting suck ...more
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