THE VOR

There's a lot of good to be found in books which fall into the classification 'pop-science', but it's also true that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The VOR (which is not about bellicose people with funny accents) is a book which provides the latter. Perhaps 'dangerous' isn't quite the word - since the subject, building a robot, sounds pretty harmless - but misleading.

It seems that the VOR (Volitionally Operant Robot) project is somehow connected with the magazine Omni, since the result, OMNIVAC - a name lifted from Isaac Asimov - appeared on the Omni TV series.

According to the bookjacket, it's about 'the design and creation of a computer-controlled robot, featuring the latest technological advance in artificial intelligence.'

The fact is, the book is little more than a who-said-what-and-when account of some meetings and TV shows, all totally swamped by a lot of platitudes couched in fancy language. The object is evidently to make the reader feel he's getting real red meat.

For example: "Problems arising in a real world environment, however, tend to be more complex than in a game environment." This translates as: "It's harder to do it for real, than to pretend."

The designers wanted (or were told to make) a machine which would be at least recognisably people-shaped, and having decided that, fell into the trap of thinking that by making something that looks intelligent/human, you'll wind up with something that is intelligent/human.

Finally, do not buy this book on the assumption that it will teach you how to build a computer-controlled robot. It won't.