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Entries in mechanization (1)

Tuesday
Dec112007

Our Dread of Robots (1932)

The September 27, 1932 Ruston Daily Leader (Ruston, Louisiana) ran a cautionary editorial about an inventor who was supposedly shot by his own robot. From the late 1920s until the late 1930s you can find countless news articles of the wondrous feats robots were supposed to have performed.

The uneasy feelings we had about automation and mechanization are articulated quite well by the editorial. The end of the piece is accurate in stating, "Machinery has created a revolution in our life. The wage-earner, the farmer, the soldier, the merchant, the politician, the schoolmaster, the printer - all of us, in every moment of our lives, live differently than our ancestors lived because of the constant increase in the mechanization of society."

The entire editorial appears below.

A fable that has held the attention of writers for more than a century came very close to coming true not long ago.

 

An English inventor had built a big steel "robot," or mechanical man, which was operated by wireless. At a word of command the robot would do various things, including fire a revolver at a target. And one day, when the inventor was just about to give the command, the robot unexpectedly raised the gun and fired, shooting the inventor in the hand.

"I always had the feeling that he would turn on me some day," the inventor remarked afterward. "I don't know why he fired before I gave the signal."

Ever since Mrs. Shelley wrote about Frankenstein, who made a mechanical man which got out of his control, this motion of an automatic, lifeless man created out of machinery has attracted writers; and the writer who handles it nearly always has his mechanical man, at last, go on a rampage and start destroying things.

Indeed, fable has become the modern ghost story. We don't shudder over tales of spooks and haunts the way our fathers did, but we can always get cold chills by thinking about a steel monster that goes about with no brain or heart to control it. We find it more horrifying to think of a body without a soul than to think of a soul without a body. Furthermore, we find it easier to believe in such a thing.

And now, apparently, it has happened. Life has imitated art once more. A robot has shot its master.

A psychologist could probably make a good deal of this fascinating dread of ours for mechanical monsters. Machinery has created a revolution in our life. The wage-earner, the farmer, the soldier, the merchant, the politician, the schoolmaster, the printer - all of us, in every moment of our lives, live differently than our ancestors lived because of the constant increase in the mechanization of society.


See also:
The Mechanical Man of the Future (1928)
"I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot" by Jack Dempsey (1930s)
Robots vs. Musicians (1931)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Mammy vs. Robot (Charleston Gazette, 1937)
Restaurant Robots (1931)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)
All's Fair at the Fair (1938)