(These are excerpts from my book "Intelligence is not Artificial")
Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (The Birth of Robots)
The word "robot" first appeared in Karel Capek's science-fiction theatrical play "R.U.R" (which stands for Rossum's Universal Robots) of 1920, but it referred to artificial humans built in a factory (like the replicants in "Blade Runner"), and "robota" means "serf labor" because these "robots" are used as slaves in the plot. So these robots were really the descendants of Mary Shelley's creature in "Frankenstein" (1818), or of Carlo Collodi`s wooden boy in "The Adventures of Pinocchio" (1883) and Frank Baum's tin-man in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" (1900). Today's robots are rather the descendants of the mechanical automata that were built over the centuries in Europe, Middle East and China, the most famous being Jacques de Vaucanson's "Flute Player" (1737) and Pierre Jaquet-Droz's "The Writer" (1768). The protagonist of Jacques Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann" (1881) falls in love with Olympia, a mechanical doll. The first fictional robot could well be Thea von Harbou's Futura in "Metropolis" (1925), the novel on which Fritz Lang's film was based. It was, however, preceded in cinema by Burton King's and Harry Grossman's Automaton in the serial "The Master Mystery" (1920), coincidentally shown in the same year as Capek wrote his play.
It took three decades for engineers to catch up. In 1954 George Devol designed the first industrial robotic arm, Unimate, which, manufactured by Joseph Engelberger, was first delivered to a General Motors factory in New Jersey in 1959.
In 1961 Claude Shannon's student Heinrich Ernst at MIT developed a robotic arm that inaugurated the science of grasping objects. And computer vision was inaugurated in 1963 at MIT by the dissertation of Lawrence Roberts ("Machine Perception of Three-Dimensional Solids").
The robot Shakey, a project started in 1969 at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) by Charles Rosen's team, represented the vanguard of autonomous vehicles. By 1971 Shakey made the leap to a more powerful machine (a PDP-10) and the team had made some valuable contributions to the field: the STRIPS planner, developed by Richard Fikes and Nils Nilsson, the Hough transform for computer vision, developed by Richard Duda and Peter Hart, and the A* heuristic search algorithm (that would remain the most used algorithm in its class for half a century).
Back to the Table of Contents
Purchase "Intelligence is not Artificial")