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Entries in robots (79)

Sunday
Feb222009

Man or Machine? (1933)


Whenever doing research on past robots of the future I usually have to wade through a lot of exaggeration, distortion, and lies. The hundreds of articles that I've read from the 1920s through the present often describe robots doing things that would be incredibly difficult, even for the robots of 2009. It is much easier when I stumble upon a news story like this one, from the May 26, 1933 Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA).

That's a dude with glass goggles on his eyes. No question. Still, a fun vision of the future. You can read a few article about this California fakebot here.

Previously on Paleo-Future:
The Mechanical Man of the Future (1928)
Our Dread of Robots (1932)
"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)

Monday
Dec012008

Robot Christmas (1958)


Well Medicated recently compiled a number of paleo-futuristic images (mostly stolen from the always-excellent blog Modern Mechanix), including this one from the December, 1958 issue of Popular Electronics magazine. The robot family of the future sure is adorable, putting up their Christmas tree and all. If you recall, Parade magazine had a more terrifying depiction of the robo-dog of the future back in 1959.

If you love this style of robot, might I recommend the tremendous artwork of Eric Joyner? A delight for all robots, big and small.

A special thanks to BoingBoing and Jeremy for the heads up on this robo-family find.

Read more:
Santa's Reindeer Out of Work (1900)
Will robots make people obsolete? (1959)
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Call a Serviceman (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
The Electronic Brain Made Beef Stew (1959)
Something must be wrong with its radar eye! (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)

Tuesday
Nov112008

The Universal Writing Formula for Futurism


I can't believe it took me this long, but I figured out the universal writing formula for futurism! It just clicked after reading a 1980s newspaper article about robots! Let me know what I'm missing:

  • Imagine [ten/twenty/fifty] years in the future.
  • Your [car/toaster/robot] speaks to you.
  • No, it's not your [friend/mom/crazy fever dream].
  • Your life just got better* with technology!

[*If article appears between 1971 and 1979 replace "better" with "shitty in the worst way"]

 

The December 8, 1985 Syracuse Herald Journal (Syracuse, NY) ran a piece about the personal robots of the future which uses this formula. The excerpt below quotes Nelson Winkless, author of the 1984 book, If I Had a Robot.

Imagine driving down the highway 10 or 20 years from now.

 

Suddenly, a small voice says, "You haven't called your mother lately. Don't you think you'd better call her today?"

No, it's not your conscience. It's your own personal robot, a funny little creature that keeps track of your obligations and watches out for you.

Of course, no one really knows what robots of the future will do to make your life easier. But a New Mexico robotics expert and author, Nelson Winkless, expects them to be more than mechanical housekeepers.

"Before we have robots that will do windows, we're going to have self-cleaning windows," he said, in a telephone interview from Corales, N.M. "I expect them to be useful in ways yet unanticipated.

"Suppose you had this little guy bumbling after you, keeping track of things. You may come to a corner and he'll say, 'Why don't you slow down and watch out here?'" says Winkless, who wrote "If I Had a Robot: What to Expect of the Personal Robot" (Dilithium Press, $9.95).

"We have just gotten to the point where we have (robots) that operate intuitively. They look at information and say, 'In all of my experience in life, what does this remind me of most?' They can see opportunities and problems and point them out."

Joe Herrera, robot product manager for Tomy Corp., in Carson, Calif., thinks there will be "a robot in every garage" by the year 2000.

"One robot for the home may be able to wash your car and tell the kids stories," says Herrera, whose company manufactures robot toys.

"Right now, personal robots are in the same stage handheld calculators were 10 years ago. But every year, we're learning more and more."


Read more:
If I Had a Robot (1984)
Newton the Household Robot (1989)
The Future of Personal Robots (1986)
Robo-Shop (1989)
Japanese Retail Robots (1986)
In a Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook (1996)

 

Sunday
Jul202008

If I Had a Robot (1984)


My girlfriend Malorie sometimes tells the story of a robotics video she watched in 8th grade Science class. One particular robot in this video had a broken wheel and found itself unable to turn. (Or, more appropriately, the robotics team that was steering the hunk of metal found themselves unable to turn the robot.) Malorie started sobbing softly.

Try as it might the robot could not make its desired turn. Its little broken wheel jerked and jumped, but to no avail. Malorie then started crying uncontrollably, quietly pleading, "Why won't someone help that robot! All he wants to do is pick up the ball and put it in the middle so that he can get some points!"

This may be an extreme example, but it illustrates our ability to anthropomorphize robots. We've seen that humanity's vision of robot servants is even older than the term robot itself but the household humanoid robot is still a technology of the future. The latter may have as much to do with cultural roadblocks to human-wannabes than technological hurdles.

The introduction to the 1984 book If I Had a Robot: What to Expect from the Personal Robot speaks of this desire to see the artificial, mechanical man become "real" (provided they don't get out of hand). The book gives readers an imaginative peek at the personal robots just around the (1984) corner.

A selection from the first chapter of the book appears below.

Let us not shilly-shally in this matter; robots are interesting only insofar as they act like animals - nay, like people. The great romance of robotics is rooted in our longing for these artificial creatures to behave like natural creatures.

 

Our images are muddled, of course. We look on robots as forbidden fruit - the Golem, brought to life by the improper use of arcane knowledge. We fear them as we fear the Frankenstein monster . . . deliciously. At the same time, we like them, root for them, support them, hope they'll turn our brave, strong, good, and caring. It's hard to say now whether Isaac Asimov, writing the stories collected in I Robot in the faraway thirties and forties, was creating new concepts, or recording the chiefly unarticulated views and expectations of society at the time. But certainly, Asimov's magnificently crafted stories have largely determined the expectations of everybody in the Western World with respect to robots. With due respect to writers Capek, Williamson, Saberhagen, and the others. Asimov has dominated robotics thought for some decades now. How many of us have been waiting, waiting for those critters to start appearing among us?

And haven't we been lucky that Asimov is such an optimist! Logical purists may cavil at the Three Laws of Robotics, complaining, perhaps with reason, that the laws are inconsistent. That really doesn't matter. The robots in the stories are so likable - with an occasional rogue among them - that we want to deal with them directly, to get to know them, to be friends. All the automatic defenders and destroyers, are as nothing in our imagination, compared with Asimov's interesting creations, who try to make things work out for the better.

That's quite an accomplishment. Whether he created it all out of whole cloth or crystallized the latent hopes and dreams of people in general, Asimov has powerfully influenced popular thought on robotics - for the good, many of us think. Certainly the Star Wars robots are in the Asimov mold, determined by the life experience of George Lucas and his associates, who grew up in Asimov robot tradition.

And what about reality, if there is such a thing?


See also:
Will Robots Make People Obsolete? (1959)
We'll All Be Happy Then (1911)
Maid Without Tears (1978)
The Future of Personal Robots (1986)
Robo-Shop (1989)
Japanese Retail Robots (1986)
In a Cashless Future, Robots Will Cook (1996)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Our Dread of Robots (1932)

 

Monday
Jun022008

Official Guide Book: 1939 World's Fair


The motto of the 1939 New York World's Fair was, "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms."

And you wonder why 1930's America was afraid of automation! It was practically the theme of the '39 Fair that Man would adhere to the will of whatever Science and Industry dictated. An international fear of robots in the 1930s seems downright reasonable when seen through that lens.

The Official Guide Book to the 1939 New York World's Fair is a beautiful, hardbound book full of paleo-futuristic delights. The introduction to the guide book appears below. I recommend listening to the official theme song of the Fair, "Dawn of a New Day," while reading the intro.

To the millions of Fair visitors, assembled from the many nations of the world, we bid a hearty welcome. During more than four years we have labored mightily to provide you with the great spectacle which you now see. The talents and genius of many men and women - architects, designers, artists, engineers, industrialists, businessmen, civic leaders, and educators - have been assembled to give graphic demonstration to the dream of a better "World of Tomorrow:" that world which you and I and our millions of fellow citizens can build from the best of the tools available to us today. We show you here in the New York World's Fair the best industrial techniques, social ideas and services, the most advanced scientific discoveries. And at the same time we convey to you the picture of the interdependence of man on man, class on class, nation on nation. We tell you of the immediate necessity of enlightened and harmonious cooperation to preserve and save the best of our modern civilization. We seek to achieve orderly progress in a world of peace; and toward this end many competent critics have already noted marked progress.

 

The completed Fair is a living, eloquent tribute to the men and women who planned, built and operate it - to the executives and many members of a loyal and talented staff. Tribute to each and every one who worked to translate a vision into a pulsing reality.

This is your Fair, built for you and dedicated to you. You will find it a never ceasing source of wonder. We feel that it will delight you and instruct you. But in the midst of all the color, and rhythm, and music and festivity you cannot fail to receive that more serious message: how you and I and all of us can actively contribute, both for ourselves and for our communities, toward that better "World of Tomorrow" to which we all look forward.

With this brief but cordial message we present you to your Fair.


See also:
Our Dread of Robots (1932)
Dawn of a New Day (1939)
Technology and Man's Future (1972)
Restaurant Robots (1931)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)
All's Fair at the Fair (1938)
"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)
Railroads on Parade (1939)
Memory of 'Tomorrow' (New York Times, 1941)

 

Friday
May302008

"Modern Inventions" Production Art (1937)


Jeff over at 2719 Hyperion has some amazing production art from the 1937 Donald Duck short film Modern Inventions, including this sketch of our one-eyed robot butler. A clip from the short appears below. The entire short can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD set The Chronological Donald, Volume One.

 


See also:
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)

 

Tuesday
May202008

Will robots make people obsolete? (1959)


The January 4, 1959 issue of Parade magazine published a piece by Sid Ross titled, "Will Robots Make People Obsolete?"

The piece in its entirety appears below in all its dystopian glory. Who knew that Parade could be so dark? The piece claims that in the future "mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race."

The heaviness of the piece, along with the accompanying illustration, raise so many questions. Chief among them, why would a family of four gleefully jump into that menacing robot's mouth?


Secondly, why would Father be fed an entire pumpkin? For that matter, why is this evil machine feeding him at all?


Is Robo-Dog attacking Little Johnny for a reason? Maybe Johnny pulled Robo-Dog's metal tail one too many times. I'm willing to accept the possibility that Johnny deserves what's coming to him.


Lastly, despite the abject horror on Mother's face, the robot servant appears to be doing a damn fine job. Baby is happy and there's no indication that supper is burning. Granted, we have to assume that Mother was less-than-gingerly placed into that trash can by Mr. Octo-Eyes.


(UPDATE: I've been informed that the illustration for this piece was done by the incredible Jim Flora.)

Parade Magazine
January 4, 1959

All over the world and on the colonies in outer space, everyone is excited about the most popular event of the year. All human activity stops as people breathlessly await the outcome of the world's championship tiddlywinks contest.

 

In this world of the future mankind has little else to be excited about. For earth has been transformed into a "paradise" where incredibly clever robots take care of things. They do the farming, the factory work, run the trains, regulate traffic, enforce the law, cook the meals, clean the houses and distribute a vast wealth of goods and services to which every human being is entitled - merely by being alive.

Almost nothing familiar on earth today will survive in this robotized world of the future. For instance:

  • Only a privileged few will have the right to work at a job.
  • The dream of youngsters will not be to grow up rich and successful, but to be one of the favored few workers.
  • Juvenile delinquency will take the form of vandalism against robots.
  • Everyone wil aspire for some kind of "blue ribbon" for an amateur activity, hobby or sport - possibly an award for the best ship model built out of matchsticks or the most colorful rock garden in town.
  • Heroes and celebrities will be the persons who devise new parlor games.
Withering Family Life
  • Mankind's major struggle will be against boredom, with the suicide rate zooming as people lose the race.
  • Governments and family life will wither away. Public officials will be replaced by Board of Supervisors to "umpire" games, sports and recreation, and also administer competitive exams which would decide who could work at the few essential jobs left for human beings to do.
Fantastic? Certainly, by our everyday standards of progress. But every one of these dizzying pictures of life in the future could conceivably become real - when and if man creates robots to do his work for him.

 

Man's mastery of science and technology is advancing by tremendous leaps and bounds. One of his major goals ever since the caveman harnessed an ox to a primitive plow, has been to make something else replace human muscle power. The ultimate "something else" is the robot that acts and thinks like a man.

For the robot-powered society described here, Parade enlisted the fertile imagination and scientific knowledge of Isaac Asimov, an associate professor of bio-chemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a writer of science-fiction stories, including a series on robots.

Awful to Face

Wondrous as Asmiov's robotized world of the future may seem, the man who dreamed it up wants no part of it. Says Asimov, "I'll be glad that I will have long since been dead rather than face life in such a society!"

In the transportation systems of the future, electronically guided robots will be the bus and truck drivers. There may be robots that can repair TV sets, fix the plumbing, run IBM machines, act as traffic policemen, read galley proofs, serve as "information" attendants at railway stations.

"In theory," says Asimov, "there is no reason why any human job cannot be done by a machine if we can invent a robot brain as complex and as small as the human brain. Under such circumstances, there is no reason why a robot couldn't mentally be capable of doing anything a human can.

"But who will need man then? Man will die off of simple boredom and frustration." The reason, Asimov points out, is that comparatively few people can be usefully creative.

Consider the Joneses, who in a robotized world, have lost their usefulness:

Mr. and Mrs. Jones would have it easy. Their robot butler would awaken them gently, serve them breakfast in bed and wheel away and wash the dirty dishes. The robot valet and maid would choose the day's attire and dress them.

"Free" for the day, Mr. and Mrs. Jones must decide what to do. Mrs. Jones doesn't have the drudgery of housekeeping. Mr. Jones has no job to go to, since robots are doing nearly all the work. Of course, he could spend the day tinkering with his sailboat, although he knows a robot could tune u p the auxiliary engine more efficiently. Mrs. Jones may decide to work in the garden. Her robot could do this better, but she jealously guards this privilege.

Some people - the "aristocracy" in this strange robot society - would be entitled to work.


See also:
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957)
Call a Serviceman (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
The Electronic Brain Made Beef Stew (1959)
Something must be wrong with its radar eye! (Chicago Tribune, 1959)
Frigidaire Kitchen of the Future (1957)
Monsanto House of the Future Brochure (1961)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)