Ancient Robots

Ancient Robots March 27, 2020

Ancient aliens is pseudoscience and science fiction. Ancient robots is something else. Adrienne Mayor writes about her recent book Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology:

Who first imagined robots? Most historians believe that automatons were first developed in the Middle Ages. Some philosophers of science claim that it was impossible for anyone in ancient times to imagine technologies beyond what already existed.

Other scholars assume that all animated beings in mythology were inert matter brought to life by gods or magic, like Adam and Eve or Pygmalion’s ivory statue. But I wondered, was it possible that the concepts of robots could have been imagined in classical antiquity, long before technology made them possible?

I found descriptions of imaginary automatons as early Homer, more than 2,500 years ago, in a remarkable group of Greek myths. Robots, synthetic beings, and self-moving devices appear in myths about Odysseus, Jason and the Argonauts, the sorceress Medea, the bronze automaton Talos, and Pandora. The stories envisioned ways of replicating nature by a process of bio-techne, “life through craft.” These beings were not simply inert matter brought to life by magic or a god’s command. Ancient poets describe the artificial entities as “made, not born,” to emphasize their technological, non-biological origins.

So, thousands of years before medieval and early modern machines-and centuries before innovations of the Hellenistic era (fourth century to first century BCE) produced real self-moving devices-ideas about creating artificial life were being explored in imaginative thought experiments, set in an alternate world where technology was marvelously advanced. My book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology, delves into the earliest expressions of the desire to create artificial life, from the age of mythology to proliferation of real automatons in Alexandria, Egypt.

Read the rest of her article on the ASOR website.

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