In Our Own Image Essay - Critical Essays

In Our Own Image

Maureen Caudill’s title derives from Genesis 1:26, which begins thus in the Authorized Version: “And God said, Let us make men in our image, after our likeness . . . .” Caudill suggests that, willy-nilly, humankind is already well on the way toward mimicking that act of creation. Though she dedicates her book to Gene Roddenberry, and alludes to science fiction stories and films, Caudill—who is president of NeuWorld Services and a neural networks consultant in San Diego, California—is largely concerned here with the nuts and bolts of artificial intelligence, robotics, and related fields.

At the beginning of her first chapter, “The Measure of Mankind,” Caudill lists a dozen “minimal requirements” which an “artificial person” would have to fulfill. In subsequent chapters, she describes current research which is bringing the creation of such an android closer to reality. The research she samples is being conducted by thousands of individuals with widely different interests and agendas. Machine vision systems, speech recognizers, neural networks—all attempt to reproduce or simulate aspects of the full range of human capabilities.

While the cumulative achievements of the researchers Caudill surveys are indeed impressive, there is a huge gap between them and the goal she establishes at the outset. Nevertheless, at the end she speculates about the impact of androids “that can interact with people, experience pain and pleasure, make decisions, [and] operate independently on the job—or at least as independently as a human being.” Caudill’s fundamentally upbeat conclusion, seasoned with apocalyptic thrills and chills, is the weakest part of the book. The issues she considers are well worth attention, however farfetched they may seem today, but her treatment of them is glib. The text is supported by figures and tables; there are no notes, but Caudill provides suggested reading for each chapter.