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Entries in robots (79)

Monday
Jan242011

Shopping in the Future (1981)

I'm often shocked at how accurate some 20th century predictions of online shopping were. However, these retail prognosticators frequently miss the mark by assuming that individual goods would need to be photographed or videotaped live for consumers. 

While I can kind of understand how this might make sense with fresh fruit, today we have sites like Amazon and Peapod where a generic photo of the product for sale is displayed. That being said, this prediction of online shopping from the 1981 book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play by Neil Ardley was pretty darn close to what we have today.

A store of the future is more like a warehouse than a shop of today. The robots serve people who call up the store on their home computers. This robot is showing a bunch of bananas to a video camera, which transmits a picture of the fruit to a customer. It places the purchases in a box which is then delivered to the customer's home.

Shopping is an activity that most of us have to do every day. While it's sometimes exciting -- if you want some new clothes or a new gadget, for example -- it's often tiresome. You have to trudge around a store, wait in line to pay for your purchases, and then perhaps carry a heavy load home only to find you've forgotten something.

Shopping should be much easier and more enjoyable in the future. Computers and robots will come to your aid and enable you to shop at the very best stores. You won't have to lift a finger, let alone a shopping basket. For shopping will be yet another service that the home videophone computer will be able to provide.

Instead of going out to the shops and stores in your town or city, you contact them through your videophone computer. You'll need to see what you're buying, even if you can't handle it, so the viewscreen of the videophone computer shows you the goods available. You then instruct the computer to order the goods you want and have them delivered to your house.

Your computer "talks" to the store's computer, which in turn orders robots in the store to collect the goods together and pass them to a delivery vehicle. Under the guidance of the computers, this brings them to your home.

In this way your home computer can make sure that your home is always supplied with all its essentials, for it automatically orders new supplies as soon as they are needed. It also instructs your bank to pay for the goods, so you do not need to part with any cash.

Using the computer for shopping is yet one more way in which the computer will make life easier in the future. It will save you time that you spend in a more useful or a more pleasant way. However, many people enjoy shopping, especially looking for unusual items. So, while the computer will do your everyday shopping, you may still go shopping yourself for something special. However, the computer will be able to help you greatly if you want to buy something really exciting -- a special present for a friend, for example. With your home computer, you can purchase virtually anything in the world, for it can contact stories anywhere -- on the other side of the globe if necessary.

 

Previously on Paleofuture:

 

Friday
Dec032010

Jobs Robots Will Never Do (1983)

The June 3, 1983 Wall Street Journal ran a short blurb about jobs that robots would soon do and others that robots would probably never do. Darning socks made the list of jobs they'd never do. They should have put it on the list of things humans wouldn't do either. Where's my Father McKenzie bot?!?!!

What distinguishes man from machine? The robot revolution is providing new answers as more robots take jobs that once only people could fill. But two Carnegie-Mellon University professors have made a list of what robots probably never will be able to do.

In the near future, robots will be able to shear sheep, scrape barnacles from the hull of a ship, assemble toasters or television sets. Some day, very sophisticated robots may be able to set a table, change a tire, pick fruit or do somersaults, say Robert U. Ayers and Steven M. Miller in their book, "Robotics," published earlier this year.

What will remain the province of man? Dancing a ballet, peeling a grape, darning a sock, playing championship table tennis, delivering a baby.

The robot image above is from the 1937 Donald Duck film "Modern Inventions."

 

Previously on Paleo-Future

 

Monday
Nov222010

This Age of Power and Wonder (1930s)

Companies of the early 20th century would often include collectible cards with their foodstuffs and tobacco smokes. The New York Public Library has an extensive collection of these cigarette cards available for viewing online, including many from a series by Max Cigarettes called This Age of Power and Wonder. This series from 1935-38 includes predictions of robot servants, spaceships, live television from exotic locations, and ubiquitous airports atop city high rises. Somewhat ironically for a cigarette manufacturer, card number six in this series of 250 predicted great advances in the treatment of cancer.

 

Wells Forecasts Space-Ships

 Television of the Future

Our Future Servants?

How London May Be Lighted

 The Amphibian At Work

 Atomic Fuel

Aerodrome of the Future

War on Cancer

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Tuesday
Nov092010

Garco the Robot Retires (1961)

Lately I've been obsessed with finding the current location of 1950's robot star Garco. Garco appeared on numerous TV shows, including one of my favorite pieces of retro-space-futurism, the 1957 Disneyland TV episode, "Mars and Beyond." 

I can't seem to find any clue as to where this robot might be stored. Is Garco sitting in some guy's basement in Billings? Some museum I've never heard of? Robot heaven? If you have any info on his whereabouts please contact me immediately. I will not rest until this lovable hunk of metal is found!

The article below announcing Garco's retirement is from the July 31, 1961 Los Angeles Times

 

Garco Shows Signs of Wear, Will Retire

A mechanical man who can play chess, mix drinks, hammer nails and carry out other assingments with human encouragement will retire from active duty soon.

His mechanism is breaking down. The Garrett Corp. owns the robot.

"We are hoping to find a permanent home for him in the Smithsonian Institute or some other museum where he can be preserved for posterity," said Mickey Parr, a company spokesman.

Active Robot

Workers who built him eight years ago with surplus aircraft parts call him "Garco." They contend he has had more activity in his short lifetime than the average man sees in a span of 70 years.

Since 1953 Garco has taken part in several motion pictures, television shows, commercials and appeared at numerous charity events.

Delicate Child

But from the start Garco proved to be a delicate child. His problems arose from mechanical sickness, often causing his operating system to break down. As a result, the company always kept an engineer assigned to Garco. The engineer in charge of the mechanical man would keep Garco in his garage at home.

Mechanical Doctoring

Presently, Garco is receiving mechanical doctoring from Gray Rollo, 5308 Clearsight St.

"I've had a lot of fun working on him," Rollo said, "and at times I wonder if he isn't really human. He certainly acts more intelligently than some people I know."

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Aug152010

Alpha the Robot Shoots His Inventor (1932)

 

During the autumn of 1932 a group of curious onlookers assembled in Brighton, England to see inventor Harry May's latest invention, Alpha the robot. The mechanical man was controlled by verbal commands and sat in a chair silently while May carefully placed a gun in Alpha's hand. May then walked across the room to set up a target for the robot to shoot.

Seemingly more man than machine, and without a word from its inventor, the robot rose to its feet. May commanded the two-ton robot to sit, but instead it took a step forward. As the machine slowly raised the pistol, women in the audience screamed and men shouted warnings to the inventor. May commanded the robot to stop. "Drop that gun and sit down!" he screamed to no effect. Naturally, the inventor rose his hand to defend himself. Alpha the robot squeezed the trigger and in one quick, violent moment the discharged bullet pierced flesh and shattered the bones in May's hand.

The robot stood motionless, its arm outstretched with the smoking gun. May's voice could be heard, again desperately attempting to command the robot, "Back to your chair, Alpha! And drop that gun!"

This time, to everyone's amazement, the robot obeyed its master's command. The gun fell to the floor and the robot returned to its chair.

As a doctor tended to May, the inventor calmly explained, "I always had a feeling that Alpha would turn on me some day, but this is the first time he ever disobeyed my commands. I can't understand why he fired before I gave the proper signal."

Newspapers across the United States took this story and ran with it. An editorial from a Louisiana newspaper even proclaimed that the era of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was upon us. The bold new world of automation was to be feared. Mechanical men of our own creation were sure to destroy us all.

With the benefit of hindsight we can say that this series of events never happened, or were at the very least, wildly exaggerated. A much tamer version of the story was reported in far fewer newspapers, (just one by my count), but still contained the sensationalistic headline, "Maker Is Shot by Robot He Invented." In this version of the story May was inserting a cartridge into the gun, which was attached to the robot, and an accidental, premature discharge simply burned the inventor's hand.

 

1932 Oct 23 Ogden Standard-Examiner - Ogden City UT

 

Such fantastic feats ascribed to robots are so obviously absurd to today's skeptical minds. Robotic machines are just now beginning to complete the most basic tasks of walking up stairs, slowly running, and "recognizing" faces. Such autonomous movement, as described in the story of Alpha turning on its inventor, is only recently beginning to be seen in robots being developed by Honda, Toyota and in elite universities around the world.

But why did these articles run in so many newspapers across the country? Why were people apt to believe that a "robot," or "mechanical man" would develop a mind of its own and turn on its inventor?

The 1930s was an era of dread. The Great Depression had ravaged the nation economically, physically and emotionally. The fear of automation manifested itself in sensational pieces throughout various popular media about the invasion of the machine. Comic books, radio dramas and newspaper articles fueled the fire, and allowed the nation to point to something, anything. Robots, technology, automation, they were the cause of our distress.

Technology was something to fear because it would (or had) put you out of a job. Automation meant efficiency. Automation meant fewer jobs for men who worked in factories. Automation meant that we would never see an end to the despair. Sound familiar?

 

The article embedded above is from the October 23, 1932 Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT).

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Tuesday
Jul062010

Will Humanity Annihilate Itself? (1939)

The March 29, 1939 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) ran this teaser for an article that was to appear in the April 2nd issue of The American Weekly.

At first glance, I had assumed that the ad was referencing this article that we looked at from 1935, but upon closer inspection it would seem they simply used the same drawing of a robot soldier from Erik Nitsche. Maybe if I track down the actual 1939 article from Professor C.M. Joad I'll straighten this whole robotic mess out. Until then, enjoy the pictures (...of an uber-dystopian, sentient robot hellscape!)

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
May052010

Televox Entertains High School Students (1930)

The November 20, 1930 Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune (Muscatine, IA) ran a short blurb announcing that Televox -- a robot you might remember as the husband of one Mrs. Katrina Van Televox -- would be making an appearance at a local Iowa high school.

"Televox," the mechanical man, one of the outstanding miracles of modern science, will perform for the students of the Muscatine high school at the high school auditorium Friday at 8:40 a. m., Henry Van Hettinga, principal, announced today. This will be the high school's first taste of the High School Assembly association talent this year.

This is a treat that is always in demand in the schools which are members of the assembly association. This mechanical human, often called the "servant of the future," was built in the East Pittsburg laboratories of the Westinghouse Electric company. It will be demonstrated Friday morning by W.A. Wheeler, an expert electrician.

One of his special tricks is that of using the telephone in much the same manner as a human being. He will perform many other interesting tasks. An admission of 10 cents will be charged.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future: