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Entries in robots (79)

Sunday
Apr252010

Tommy Edison Builds Secretary Knox a Robot (1909)

The only thing I might love more than robots of the 1920s and 30s are robots from before the word "robot" was coined in 1922.

Now, I won't pretend to understand what's going on in this illustration. Like most editorial cartoons that I stumble upon while searching newspaper archives, I have no idea what's happening here with Secretary Knox and his mechanical, moustachioed man of political obfuscation. Though, on its surface, we might call this "same as it ever was."

Source: October 22, 1909 San Antonio Light and Gazette (San Antonio, TX)

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Feb212010

The Super-Safe World of 2002 (1981)

The 1981 children's book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play accurately predicted the rise of debit cards, but may have overstated how much safer we would be in the futuristic world of 2002. The phrase, "in tomorrow's world computers will be able to guard over us," might seem humorous, given our current fears about online identity theft and high tech hegemony.

But per usual, I tip my hat to the techno-utopian authors and illustrators of the 1980s who promised kids like myself a pretty incredible future. Well, I guess when those same authors and illustrators weren't making us soil our Underoos with tales of the coming robot uprising.

Computers and robots will certainly be able to make life easier for you in the future - by allowing you to work, learn and shop at home, for example. But they also improve your life in several other ways, and one of the most important is that they will make your life safer than it is today.

Even if you're lucky enough to have escaped harm, you probably know of someone who has had a car crash or been robbed. However, in tomorrow's world computers will be able to guard over us. Let's follow a day in the future and find out how.

Imagine that you want to go into a city from your country home to watch a sports event. You leave your car at the city parking lot and then complete your journey by autotaxi and beltways. All these transports are guided and controlled by computers so that you travel in perfect safety. But you have to pay for your autotaxi ride, the sports match and a meal afterwards. Nevertheless, you walk about confident that no one will try to rob you. How can you be so sure?

 The answer is simple: you do not carry any money on you and neither does anyone else. You pay for everything you buy with an identity card like a credit card. it has a magnetic strip containing your name and other personal information in the form of a magnetic code that the computers in the autotaxi, the stadium and the restaurant can read. They simply contact your bank's computer and ask it to pay them the sums of money due to them. This done instantly, and you can check how much money you have left in your back account at any time.

But someone might try to steal your card and use it to pay for anything they want. This would be now use, because you have to authorize every payment by giving the computer a secret code number or code word. Or the computer may check your thumbprint or voice to make sure that it is dealing with you and not someone pretending to be you.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
Feb172010

Robots Will Kill Music! (1930)

With every important technological innovation a vocal group of people become alarmed that their industry will be adversely effected by it. People are understandably terrified when it seems like a new technology will put them out of a job. However, throughout the twentieth century, we've seen that the people who succeed in times of transition are those able to adapt to technology rather than fight against it.

Techno-reactionaries of the 1930s complained that automation and "robots" were going to put people out of work, and we hear identical cries today. But what is the "robot" of 2010? The Internet, of course!

Writer Andrew Keen claims that websites like YouTube have "infiltrated and infected" America, putting hardworking people out of jobs by giving a voice to the amateurs rather than those who have been the traditional media gatekeepers. In Keen's 2007 book, The Cult of the Amateur, he accuses the Internet and Web 2.0 culture of crippling the entire media industry; from newspapers to recorded music. What really gets me about Keen is his moral outrage over technology and the fearmongering that goes along with it, but I'll save that for another post.

Below is an ad from the Music Defense League that appeared in the November 24, 1930 Jefferson City Post-Tribune (Jefferson City, MO). The advertisement uses a robotic villian; a physical representation of the recorded or "canned" music that was starting to be used in theatres of the era. From the vantage point of 2010 it's a rather hilarious idea, because what is the institution of today being "destroyed" by new technology? Recorded music!

Efficiencies in distribution brought about by the Internet mean that moving recorded music around the world is simple and inexpensive. Any scarcity in newly recorded music is artificial because you no longer have to go to a store and pay for plastic discs to enjoy the music you like. As has always been the case, the innovators will thrive and those who try to put up artificial barriers will become irrelevant and die off.

Viva la technologie, etc.

 

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Feb142010

Rastus Robot, the Mechanical Negro (1931)

 

I love humanoid robots from the 1920s and 30s. They were going to fight our wars, drive our cars, and be gigolos for lonely women. In the early 1930s Westinghouse created a robot named Rastus, the "mechanical Negro." And what was Rastus going to do? Nearly take an arrow to the eye, it would seem.

The photo above appeared in the September 6, 1931 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) and shows Samuel Montgomery Kintner playing William Tell with the robot. The photo below is from the blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb, though I'm not sure who is pictured with Rastus.

Mr. S. M. Kintner, of the Westinghouse Research Laboratories, creates a mechanical Negro known as "Rastus Robot." Mr. Kintner is here enacting a modern scientific version of the famous episode of William Tell, who shot the apple from his son's head. In this demonstration a flash of light is sent out from a tiny bulb concealed in the arrow, the light is picked up by an "electric eye" on "Rastus," which ignites a charge of powder that blows the apple from the robot's head. The arrow does not leave the bow.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
Jan272010

Android Love of the Future (1982)

The June 2, 1982 Washington Post ran a short piece about lovebots of the future. The article by Stephanie Mansfield predicts androids would be on the market by the mid-1990s, and likely revolutionize the way people looked at sexual relations.  

Arthur Harkins, director of the graduate program in futures research at the University of Minnesota, is even quoted as saying that android-human relationships might be treated as common-law marriages. I suppose as long as people didn't get gay-robo-married the U.S. would be okay with that. I can hear the asinine protest chants already, "it's WALL-E and EVE, not Elektro and Steve!" 

The entire piece appears below.

He comes home every night, grabs a beer and falls asleep in front of the television. You might as well be married to a robot, you say. Well, by the year 2000, you could be.

He may even look like Cary Grant, talk about white-water rafting, be able to fix a drink and possibly even be good in bed," says Arthur Harkins, director of the graduate program in futures research at the University of Minnesota.

"One of the things we're seeing now is that people are shopping for other people the way they'd shop for an appliance," he says, citing the proliferation of computerized dating services, explicitly worded personal want ads and marriage brokers. "You're buying something that makes you happy."

Domestic robot systems are expected to come on the market by the mid-1990s, according to Harkins, and sell for several thousand dollars. These highly sophisticated androids can be programmed to offer a wide range of human personality traits. ("We can even make them neurotic") and are likely to be purchased by "people who have difficulty opening up to other human being," he says.

These surrogate spouses would be beneficial to very lonely people.

But can you fall in love with a robot? "Why not?" says Harkins, citing a bedridden hospital patient. "Along comes this wonderful android who doesn't care a bit about that, whereas other human beings may not be so inclined."

The union between man and machine would not be recognized as legal, Harkins says, but perhaps could be treated as a common-law marriage. And there's no question of a messy divorce. "Just trade it in, I suppose," the scientist says.

Another example of future schlock was the robot pets offered by Neiman-Marcus last Christmas, which Harkins says only strengthens his theory that people today want certainty. "They want somebody predictable," he says.

But Harkins says he doesn't want to trade in his own wife for a robot -- just yet. Not even, he fantasizes, "a Margot Kidder robot."

"I'd be bored stiff," he says. "But I may get to be 70 years old and look at a Mae West robot with a great deal of interest."

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Saturday
Jan232010

Mechanical Wonder Maiden (1930)

Much like her robotic brother Herbert Televox, robot Miss Katrina Van Televox toured the country demonstrating Westinghouse products. According to this ad in the October 3, 1930 Altoona Mirror (Altoona, PA) Miss Van Televox talks, answers the phone, runs a vacuum cleaner and makes coffee.

Adding the supposed cost of this robot to the ad, $22,000, was yet another way to give that feeling of inevitability which pops up repeatedly in 1930's discussions of robots.

Katrina talks... answers the phone... runs a vacuum cleaner... makes coffee and toast... turns the lights on and off and does it all willingly at command from Mr. T. Barnard the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Expert who is accompanying her on her tour. The audience will also assist Mr. Barnard in making Katrina work. Her appearance here at The American Legion Home is her first in Altoona and women of this city are cordially invited by the Penn Central Light & Power Co., sponsors of her visit, to attend her personal appearance.

Katrina is chief demonstrator of the famous Westinghouse Flavor Zone range and is the sister of Herbert Televox famous metal man who has shown before many scientific gatherings. As Katrina's stay in Altoona is limited, The Penn Central Company ask all who wish to view these amazing demonstrations to plan their visit early. The admission is Free.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Saturday
Dec052009

A Whole World of Metal Men? (1937)

Reading about robots as envisioned in the 1920s and 30s, it is always a question of when robots would replace humans in every facet of life, rather than if. This article from the October 17, 1937 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) paints a pretty bleak picture of the future of humankind. You really need to read the full article to appreciate just how far along this robo-dystopia had been imagined.

But Professor von Schmidt saw the possibility of robots becoming so well-developed mechanically that they will automatically be abel to control each other, and will outlive and perhaps wipe out their creators, man. They may become such perfect "supermen" that will despise their inferior inventors and keep them locked up in reservations and escape-proof prisons until the race dies out.

As terrible and fantastic as all this may sound, thoughtful men in Europe think it is becoming a likelihood with inventions already perfected by science. Indeed, a peep at this world of the future has been given in some extremely interesting pictures, a few of which are shown on this page.

1937 Oct 17 San Antonio Light - San Antonio TX

Previously on Paleo-Future: