It’s rare that a book review makes me this incensed, but Dick Teresi’s smug throwdown of the new tome “Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids” in the New York Times Book Review this week did just that. While the book itself might be too sweeping in its dreamy sci-fi “soon we will all be cyborgs” rhetoric, the review is even more sweeping in its urge to carpet-bomb attack. Teresi constructs the most tired straw-man argument possible, wheeling out old chestnuts of roboticists as reductionists, near-automatons who work in realms of numbers and not “feelings.” It reminded me of how irritated I got waiting in line at the post office recently, as I eavesdropped on a conversation between two women–one, an American woman, and the other a Chinese immigrant. “You see, in America,” said the blonde woman in an exaggeratedly slow, condescending tone, “the emphasis is not on math; it’s on the humanities. In this country, we emphasize creativity.” The quiet Chinese woman nodded her head politely. But math in its purest form is creativity so fine and distilled that you could pour it on the rocks and drink it; privileging one discipline over another is just stupidly myopic.

Consider the hideous trainwreck of flawed reasoning in the second paragraph of the review:

The biologist makes no distinction between human and nonhuman life-forms. The roboticist takes this a step further, refusing to distinguish between living and nonliving objects. An object is the sum of its behaviors. Duplicate the behavior of a person and your robot is human. Out of this obtuse worldview come simplicity and the singleness of purpose required to build metal-and-silicon men.

One of the most painful things about reading reviews like this is that they attempt to attack things for lacking nuance by using the least nuanced, most overgeneralized arguments possible. You can condemn technology for being too cold and black-and-white, for lacking the grey areas of humanity and the ineffable, but it doesn’t help things any to use the broadest, most obtuse strokes possible, to use empty binaries in an attempt to denounce exactly that which you’re railing against.

The grand conclusion that this review draws is that it is impossible to construct robots that match the endlessly complicated wonders of human beings. Sure, but so what? Any fourteen-year-old in biology class could have told you that much. But how can robotics help us to develop our understanding of what it means to be human? It’s a shame that the review didn’t take the time to actually analyze anything in depth, to grapple with ideas of consciousness in a thoughtful, informed way. Instead, we’re treated to an arrogant, half-formed repudiation of half-formed ideas; kneejerk reaction in place of any meaningful action.