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Entries in robot rebellion (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
May242007

"I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot" by Jack Dempsey (1930s)


The 1979 book Wasn't the Future Wonderful? features the above two-page spread of Jack Dempsey challenging a robot. Unfortunately, the book doesn't specify the publication or date except that it's from the 1930s and probably from Modern Mechanix. Below is an excerpt from the piece.

I can whip any mechanical robot that ever has or ever will be made.

Maybe that sounds a bit egotistical, maybe you will say it's just the voice of a "has-been," but I assure you that neither is true.

Engineers can build a robot that will possess everything except brains. And without brains no man can ever attain championship class in the boxing game.

See also:
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Robots: The World of the Future (1979)
The Mechanical Man of the Future (1928)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Mammy vs Robot (Charleston Gazette, 1937)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)
All's Fair at the Fair (1938)

Tuesday
May152007

The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)

The October 16, 1922 edition of The Bee (Danville, Virginia) ran a syndicated story about the Karel Capek play R.U.R. The play introduced the world to the word "robot" from the Czech "robota," which literally means "forced work." Below are excerpts as well as the article as it appeared in The Bee.

If any industrial genius, like Henry Ford, ever turns his energies to the manufacture of Robots we're all goners, as the saying is.

The Robot is a terrible creature of synthetic flesh, bone and skin. He is in the image of man and has all the attributes of man except spirituality and laziness. One Robot having been completed and assembled he can be turned to the task of manufacturing arms and legs of other Robots. After they are assembled he can be sold in wholesale lots to various industrial concerns and to nations as soldiers against the Robot armies of other nations.

Or maybe you would like a Robotess as stenographer. She wouldn't chew gum because she has no taste. She wouldn't waste time with lip-stick and primping because she has no sense of beauty. She'd never ask for a raise because she has no use for money.

The Robot symbolizes the present-day spirit of mechanicalism used to forecast the revolt of humans against the human-created artifices that mock the powers of nature.

Or perhaps the play presents the theory of a coming genesis, the anticipation of a future cycle of human evolution in which man shall be confounded by the Creator he has mimicked.


See also:
The Mechanical Man of the Future (1928)
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)

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)

Thursday
Apr192007

The Robot Rebellion (1982)


In all the futurism books written for children, this may be the most hilariously disturbing two-page spread I've seen. This image, from the book Fact or Fantasy (World of Tomorrow) depicts robots that have determined humans are no longer necessary and now must be hunted down.

I can just see some little Billy or Susie in the early 80s reading that, "...allied to robots of superhuman strength, these computers might take over the world and see no place in it for ourselves." The aforementioned child then precedes to poop their pants.

See also:
Mars and Beyond (1957)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)