Thoughts about robots

Notes and thoughts after the introductory session of Robots and Everyday life from the Brigstow Institute which was incredibly stimulating.

Speaker Genevieve Liveley started her history of robots with Talos (Huge bronze man who guarded Crete by throwing rocks at ships in Greek mythology). I’d never considered robots existed before the 20th century.

Dr Genevieve Bell is another interesting Genevieve who’s interests include AI and robot history.

Replica of Gakutensoku, Japan’s First Robot – late 1920’s

Elektro – the smoking robot from 1939. Controlled by single syllable words spoken in staccato into a 2 way microphone The words opened connections to jump him to his tricks. The words converted into electrical impulses by a photoelectric tube in his chest. These set off relays which triggered motors and activated his tricks. Words were not important, they just had to be staccato.

I think this is a replica of the 1739 digesting duck


I’ve been collecting images from 50’s science fiction since last summer when I was throwing rocket pots. Rockets feature heavily in my Pinterest board but also robots. The mid century robots share similarities.

Human characteristics in a metallic shell:

  • They stand upright
  • They have a face
  • They have broad chests
  • They almost always have arms
  • Their legs may be wheels

Common descriptive words:

  • modern
  • intergalactic
  • mighty
  • strong
  • mech anised/ical
  • cyber man/netic
  • future
  • friction
  • thunder
  • atom
  • gigantic
  • space
  • power

Pinterest robots neatly ordered in columns metallic humans

Pinterest robots neatly ordered in columns metallic humans

Pinterest robots neatly ordered in columns metallic humans

Pinterest robots neatly ordered in columns metallic humans

Why robots?

Discounting the toys (which I’ll think about later), all of these robots are designed to do something better than humans, to be stronger, to protect or to attack. They are servants with no questions. They obey. All of them are masculine with two exceptions – the Metropolis robot girl and the Smash mashed potato robots who appear in traditional family units in some of the ads from the 1970’s. The Smash robots are also different in that they are better than stupid humans who still make mash from actual potatoes.


Machine-human (Maschinenmensch) built by Rotwang. Some versions have Rotwang instruction the robot to cause destruction, others suggest that Rotwang lost control of it. The scientist uses Maria’s body to create a clone over the top of the metallic robot. The robot doesn’t seem to inherit any of Maria’s good qualities, just the body. When the Maria robot is burnt towards the end of the film we see it revert to metalso the skin was just surface. Whether the robot went rogue or an error prevented it from becoming “the most perfect and obedient tool man ever possessed’ it important. If it wasn’t instructed to destroy, would it have been a good robot? Fritz Lang said in 1973 (see Omnibus link below) that he didn’t think technology would make us happier.

Sci Fi rabbit warren

Omnibus, It’s Fantastic! It’s Futuristic! It’s Fatalistic! It’s Science Fiction! Sunday, 16 Dec 1973. (Found on Box of Broadcasts)


Tonight’s Omnibus film illustrates how science fiction with its stories of robots, space travel, and future civilisations has become the new mythology for our technological age.

Filmed in New York, Los Angeles, Cape Kennedy, and London, the programme features Brian Aldiss, Isaac Asimov, J. G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Fritz Lang, Fred Pohl, and Kurt Vonnegut, and traces the development of science fiction from the romances of Jules Verne, and the tales of H. G. Wells to the modern writers of this 20th-century literature.

Rules for Robots

Asimov’s original 3 laws of robotics (1942)

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Mark W. Tilden (robotics physicist) has very different laws. He called his early robots”wimpy” for being built to Isaac Asimov’s laws. These are his laws for “wild” robots. Is this a new species? Non human? 

  1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs.
  2. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source.
  3. A robot must continually search for better power sources.

Thoughts to think about

  • Can you build a robot with no purpose? Could a robot build a robot with no goal?
  • What are robots bad at?
  • What do robots do best?
  • Would robots run the world better than humans?
  • If robots save us time, what would we do with it?
  • If robots don’t fail, how can they learn? Is it possible to design a failing robot? (from failure comes innovation)
  • Is human happiness dependant on task satisfaction, what would happens if robots did everything?
  • Do humans need mundane tasks to give our brains a rest?
  • Could a robot design a better human?

To research

  • How kids play with robot toys and what excites them about the robots.
  • Happiness indexes? Does work make people happy?
  • Check out the Robot hall of Fame
  • Rossum’s Universal Robots

Robot history and sci fi documentaries

Pinterest robots neatly ordered in columns metallic humans

The Tiny Art Gallery Manual

a book to help you run your own small gallery kindle and in print

a book to help you run your own small gallery kindle and in print