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Entries in ogden standard-examiner (5)

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:

 

Thursday
May012008

Streamlined Humans (1934)


This article from the July 29, 1934 Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT) imagines the streamlined human of the future. In the piece, Count Sakhnoffsky proposes the alteration of humans to fit the new, fast-paced society of the future. An excerpt appears below. You can read the entire article above.

Why [Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky] asks, shouldn't men and women have their ears clipped to a torpedo raciness, get their trunks windcurved, be equipped with a set of toeless, graceful feet and possess a filtering device which will give them pure rather than germ-laden air?

 

Not only has the count, who is to become an American citizen in a year and a half, and prefers to be called just plain Mister or, better yet, Alec, been thinking about what streamlined humans should look like. He has gone even further. He has put to paper his talented pen, from which have come designs for streamlined radios and refrigerators, and drawn concrete examples of the ideal form toward which he feels genuine moderns should be striving.


See also:
Bearded Men of the 21st Century (1939)
Railroads on Parade (1939)

 

Tuesday
Apr292008

10,000 Years From Now (1922)


The February 12, 1922 Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT) published this page, speculating on the world 10,000 years hence. The piece is a shortened article by Hugo Gernsback with illustrations by Louis Biedermann. Excerpts appear below.

The up-to-date scientist has little difficulty in predicting certain things that will happen in ten or fifty years, but a hundred centuries hence is a larger order, even for the most intrepid imagination. That practically nothing of our present civilization will be left after 10,000 years may be safely predicted. We may also prophesy that human beings, a hundred centuries hence, will live in entirely altered circumstances from those in which we now exist.

 

Our illustration depicts one of the future cities floating high in the air, several miles above the earth. The question of sustaining such a large body in a rareified atmosphere will prove to be of little difficulty to our future electrical engineers. Just as we construct leviathans of the sea to-day, some of them weighing as much as 50,000 tons we shall construct entire cities weighing billions of tons, which will be held in space not by gas balloons, propellers, or the like antiquated machinery, but by means of gravity-annulling devices. Already experiments have been made whereby it has become possible to reduce the weight of substances by electrical forces.


See also:
Closer Than We Think

 

Wednesday
May092007

The Mechanical Man of the Future (1928)

On December 9, 1928 The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden City, Utah), along with many other papers, ran a syndicated story about the mechanical man of the future. Much like the insistence that giant robots would soon fight our wars, this article clearly must be taken with a grain of salt.


The mechanical man, brazen-lunged creature of dreadful portent is among us! A few years from now you may rub elbows with him in the subway, turn out in the street to let him pass upon his ruthless way, or even, if you are a malefactor, find yourself pinioned in his grip of cold steel and compelled with unreasoning inflexibility toward a place of confinement.

What can the mechanical man do? Plenty! He can walk, and he can talk. He can stand, sit, bow, and otherwise comport himself after the fashion of a human being. But he can do more than that. He can shake hands and breathe, telephone, operate practically any electrical device, and perform any number of duties advantageous to mankind.

See also:
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Mammy vs. Robot (Charleston Gazette, 1937)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)
All's Fair at the Fair (1938)
That Synthetic Food of the Future (Ogden Standard-Examiner, 1926)

Wednesday
Apr182007

That Synthetic Food of the Future (Ogden Standard-Examiner, 1926)


This cartoon appeared on page 10 of the Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden City, Utah) on September 19, 1926. In a clear homage to Dilbert, the boss in panel three screams, "It's the second time this week you've taken four minutes for lunch!!" It seems like everyone's stealing from Scott Adams these days.

(Click on the cartoon to make it larger.)