The development of faults and shear fracture systems over a broad range of temperature and pressure and for a variety of rock types involves the growth and interaction of microcracks. Acoustic emission (AE), which is produced by rapid microcrack growth, is a ubiquitous phenomenon associated with brittle fracture and has provided a wealth of information regarding the failure process in rock. This paper reviews the successes and limitations of AE studies as applied to the fracture process in rock with emphasis on our ability to predict rock failure. Application of laboratory AE studies to larger scale problems related to the understanding of earthquake processes is also discussed. In this context, laboratory studies can be divided into the following categories. 1) Simple counting of the number of AE events prior to sample failure shows a correlation between AE rate and inelastic strain rate. Additional sorting of events by amplitude has shown that AE events obey the power law frequency-magnitude relation observed for earthquakes. These cumulative event count techniques are being used in conjunction with damage mechanics models to determine how damage accumulates during loading and to predict failure. 2) A second area of research involves the location of hypocenters of AE source events. This technique requires precise arrival time data of AE signals recorded over an array of sensors that are essentially a miniature seismic net. Analysis of the spatial and temporal variation of event hypocenters has improved our understanding of the progression of microcrack growth and clustering leading to rock failure. Recently, fracture nucleation and growth have been studied under conditions of quasi-static fault propagation by controlling stress to maintain constant AE rate. 3) A third area of study involves the analysis of full waveform data as recorded at receiver sites. One aspect of this research has been to determine fault plane solutions of AE source events from first motion data. These studies show that in addition to pure tensile and double couple events, a significant number of more complex event types occur in the period leading to fault nucleation. 4) P and S wave velocities (including spatial variations) and attenuation have been obtained by artificially generating acoustic pulses which are modified during passage through the sample. ?? 1993.