The phrase ‘robotic’ wasn’t coined till 1920, when it was utilized by Czech playwright Karel Čapek within the play R.U.R., or Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Common Robots in English). Robots — or issues like them — have been round in fable (and to some extent, truth) for hundreds of years.
Automatons in Mythology
Isma‘il Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazari, an engineer born within the twelfth century in what’s now Turkey, designed and constructed many intricate machines, together with fountains and a water-powered alarm clock — and even wrote a e book concerning the science of constructing them: The E book of Data of Ingenious Mechanical Machines. But it surely was doubtless his automatons which have induced some to name him ”the daddy of robotics.” These included a mechanical serving woman that poured tea and a quartet of robots that performed a number of completely different tunes and could possibly be “programmed” to play completely different beats.
It is among the many numerous tales we all know from fable and folklore, nonetheless, that we are able to discover the clearest intimations of our trendy robots and synthetic intelligence packages. For instance, in Jewish folklore, the Golem is a clay man magically given life when phrases are positioned within the Golem’s mouth. Simply as within the giant language mannequin AI packages that astonish us as we speak, and even handle to influence some those that they’re sentient, language is the animator — the ingredient that turns a clay statue right into a being.
However robots in fable return even additional. In her 2018 e book Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Historical Goals of Know-how, Adrienne Mayor describes how historical cultures explored the concept of synthetic life. Historical Greeks had been expert in metalwork and mechanics and created quite a lot of automata, together with a puppet theatre that might carry out a whole play. These gadgets appeared to have supplied inspiration to generations of storytellers.
Hephaestus, the Greek god of metalworking and expertise, produced marvelous weapons for the gods, but additionally constructed a wide range of beings Mayor describes as “made not born.” Within the Iliad, Homer tells of how Hephaestus normal handmaids of gold to assist him in his forge. Earlier tales inform of one other of Hephaestus’s creations, Talos, an enormous mechanical man made from bronze who was, Mayor writes, “the primary ‘robotic’ to stroll the earth.“ Talos tirelessly patrolled the shores of Crete to guard the island from invasion.
Talos’s position was to guard people. However one other of Hephaestus’s synthetic life types was meant for simply the alternative function. After the Titan Prometheus had given mortals the reward of fireside, Zeus was enraged. To actual revenge on mortals for accepting this reward, he commissioned Hephaestus to make from clay a stupendous lady, Pandora — a fascinating creation Mayor calls a “fem-bot.” Pandora was despatched to earth, together with a jar (in some translations this turned a field), to be spouse to Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus. Though Prometheus had warned Epimetheus to not settle for items from Zeus, Epimetheus took Pandora as his spouse, however forbade her to open the jar.
Wiley Zeus, nonetheless, had already instructed her (otherwise you would possibly say, programmed her) to open the jar. When she lastly did, all of the ills that beset humanity — illness, previous age, madness, famine — and all method of struggling and troubles flew out.
What Can These Myths Educate Us?
Although gods and magic had been typically concerned in creations reminiscent of Talos and Pandora, Mayor argues that these historical robots weren’t known as into being just by the fiat of a god. “These synthetic beings had been considered manufactured merchandise of expertise, designed and constructed from scratch utilizing the identical supplies and strategies that human artisans used to make instruments, artworks, buildings, and statues.” These tales had been, she writes, one thing like “historical thought experiments, ’what-if’ situations.”
As we speak, our robots are actual. However we’re nonetheless understanding a number of “what ifs” — and these historical myths will help us to try this. Mayor compares Stephen Hawking and others who’ve warned us of the dangers of synthetic intelligence to Prometheus, who warned of the hazards of accepting items from the gods. However that warning has been there all alongside; we simply have to learn the previous myths to seek out it.