Mu­seum dis­plays 500 years of ro­bots


Why do hu­mans build ma­chines that re­sem­ble them, and what does that say about us? To find out, a Lon­don ex­hi­bi­tion that opened on Tues­day sur­veys 500 years of sim­ple to so­phis­ti­cated ro­bots.

Take, for in­stance, a walk­ing and pray­ing monk from the 16th cen­tury or a car­toon­like hu­manoid avatar that helps chil­dren with autism to­day. They and 100 other ro­bots on dis­play at the Science Mu­seum chart an evo­lu­tion of ma­chines that fas­ci­nate and ter­rify.

“One of the big is­sues with do­ing a show like this is peo­ple’s pre­con­cep­tions that ro­bots come in, they de­stroy the world and they en­slave us all,” lead cu­ra­tor Ben Rus­sell said.

“One of the ad­van­tages of tak­ing a long view of ro­bots, as we have done, is that you re­al­ize a lot of these con­cerns have been with us for a very, very long time,” he added.

How­ever, he dis­missed such fears as overblown and said hu­mans would prove “much more adap­tive”.

One premise of the ex­hi­bi­tion is that study­ing ro­bots is a good way to learn what so­ci­ety was like at any given point.

A monk statue built dur­ing the 16th cen­tury on be­half of King Philip II of Spain was de­signed to im­press. It is able to pray, walk across a ta­ble while mov­ing its lips and raise a cru­ci­fix.

A stun­ning sil­ver swan from 1773 moves with grace, thanks to three sep­a­rate clock­work mech­a­nisms.

Science fic­tion has fed for more than a cen­tury on fears that hu­mans might be over­taken by the ma­chines they cre­ate, and the robo­ti­za­tion that is in­creas­ingly a part of ev­ery­day life still stirs up de­bate.

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has also di­vided the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, with renowned physi­cist Stephen Hawk­ing say­ing that AI could be “ei­ther the best, or the worst thing, ever to hap­pen to hu­man­ity”.

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