A History Of Robots


[MUSIC PLAYING] [COMPUTER BEEPING] [CAMERA CLICKING] All right. [INAUDIBLE] That’s it? Go get me some models, OK? OK. Why are you in a robot costume? (ROBOT VOICE) Robots are cool. I thought we agreed
no more robot costumes. (ROBOT VOICE) Does not compute. [ROBOT NOISES] You know what? We were going to do a playlist
all about hair brushes from the 18th century, but
since you’re in a robot costume, let’s do a playlist
all about robots. (ROBOT VOICE) OK. [ROBOT NOISES] You can take that off now. [MUSIC PLAYING] CRAIG BENZINE: So what
is it about robots that makes them so cool? MATT WEBER: I don’t know. CRAIG BENZINE: Everything. Yeah, robots are awesome. They’re a huge part
of our culture. They show up all the time
in Sci-Fi films and novels. And as technology
advances, real life robots are becoming more and more
common in our society. But aside from their
usefulness, what is it about robots that
makes them so fascinating? I mean, even the word
robot is kind of cool. Yeah, absolutely. Robot. It’s really simple. Two O’s in it. It’s very– just nice. It’s a nice word. It comes from robota,
a Czech Slavic word. It meant that work
that a medieval peasant was obliged to do
for his medieval lord without any payment. CRAIG BENZINE: This
is Dr. Minsoo Khan. He’s an associate professor
of European history at the University of
Missouri St. Louis. He’s also an author
and published a book a few years ago called
the “Sublime Dreams of Living Machines,” which is about
the rich history of robots, or should I say automata. OK, so Khan researches
robots or automatons. He’s some kind of
robot historian? That’s a bingo, Matt. But aren’t robots like
a recent invention? Shouldn’t their history be now? That’s where you’re
astoundingly wrong. Robots have been around
for thousands of years, at least the idea of
robots have been around since ancient times. You know Daedalus? Yeah, I used to work with him. No, you didn’t. In Greek mythology,
he built wings for himself and his son Icarus. Oh, yeah. Flew too close to the
sun, wings melted, died. Yeah, Icarus dies. Dedaelus survived. It was very tragic. I mean, he never
existed technically– MATT WEBER: That’s a bummer. –because it is mythology. In Greek mythology, Daedalus was
known as a master craftsman who created life-like statues
that could move and speak on their own. MATT WEBER: Sounds like a robot! And also in Homer’s Iliad,
there’s references to the god Hephaestus– The god of metallurgy and fire. MATT WEBER: Yeah, he was
like a super blacksmith. –who has these
walking tripods. And these maidens of
gold who would help him do his work and so on. OK, that’s cool Craig, but
those robots aren’t real. Those are just myths. Where there any actual
robots made a long time ago? Yep. There’s lots of accounts in
early literature about automata in ancient Greece and China. One of the oldest surviving
automata is something called the
Antikythera Mechanism, which is actually the earliest
known analog computer. It was used by
the Ancient Greeks to calculate the positions of
various astronomical objects. Automata really
became popular though during the European Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci designed
and possibly built several automata. Later in 18th century
Europe, notable watchmakers would make automata to
show off their skills. And then of course, there
was the legendary artist and inventor,
Jacques de Vaucanson. MATT WEBER: Who? CRAIG BENZINE: You don’t know
who Jacque de Vaucanson is? He was the greatest
genius of his time. No. Yeah, he was. Don’t know him. Yes, he was. Who is Jacque de Vaucanson? And it turned out that he was
also a French mechanic, who during the 1730’s, invented
three automaton, one of which was a drum player. And another one
was a flute player, and it wasn’t like a statue with
a flute with a musical device inside it. It actually emitted
wind out of its mouth, and it played an actual flute,
right, with moving fingers. And then the most
famous automaton of them all– the Defecating Duck. What? Greatest of his time. It was a duck, and it could
move around, flap its wings. You could put food in his mouth,
and a couple of minutes later, stuff came out at the other end. Right? Now Vaucanson– Probably the least useful. But what just
completely got me was that these were a huge success. People of Paris could
not get enough of them. They stood in lines
around the building to get a glimpse of it. And not only was it
a popular success– all the intellectuals at
the time just loved it– and now he’s
virtually forgotten. But it was a huge
mystery to me about what was it about Vaucanson’s
automata that really captured the imagination of the French
people in the 18th century? They were living in
an age where they were trying to look at
everything as a machine. So there was the
age when everybody was saying the universe is
a machine that God created, and God is an engineer. And he put all these things
together, and he wound it up and now it’s going by itself. Political philosophers
were talking about how the government is a machine. And the King, like God, is like
the engineer of this thing– if he’s a good King. He knows how the machine works. He knows how to fix. He knows how to run it well. There was also a revolution
in medical science where doctors were really
trying to make medicine into a real science
and trying to get rid of all the superstitious
ideas about the body that existed before. And what they did was they said
the human body is a machine. This here is a pump. These are wheels
and these are gears. And that’s how we
have to think of it. In an age when people
living in a machine universe under a machine government
and all the citizens were machine people,
these automatons came and it was like a perfect
symbol of everything that they believed
in at the time. And so they beheld it
and said, yes, that’s what the world is like. Like a pooping duck. Right, Craig? But then the Industrial
Revolution happens, and it’s like machines
are not fun anymore. They’re dirty, and
they’re everywhere. And all these workers
seem to be just, like, enslaved to it and so on. And so in the mid 19th century
onwards, you get a lot of fear of mechanization and
automata and so on. At every turn,
Western civilization have loved and
have been terrified by the idea of human machine. I think all things
that seem to traverse the boundary between
inanimate and animate are inherently interesting
to human beings, right? Because that seems to both
violate the laws of nature, but at the same
time in a fun way. And I love the reaction that
you get even today where, on the one hand, people
are like, oh, robots. Cool. That’s so fun and interesting. And the next moment
it’s, oh, robots! They’re going to kill us all! [SCREAMS] I also see it as part of on
unending search for human kind to understand what we are. I mean– and one
of the questions that I deal with in my
book in great detail is the lingering question
of are we machines? Are we like machines? And that argument goes
back and forth even today. And it is reflected in the
way in which we commonly use mechanical language to
talk about human beings. Like, for instance, when I–
if I said, you’re a machine, that’s usually a compliment. You’re really efficient
at what you do. You’re really good
at what you do. I’ve heard like
Michael Jordan being called as a dunking machine. But at the same time, if I call
you an automaton or a robot, that’s usually a
derogatory thing. Now think about that. I mean, some of the greatest
compliment that I could give is to call you a machine,
but at the same time, one of the biggest
insults that I could do is to call you a kind
of machine, right? MATT WEBER: So
what is it, Craig? Are robots good, bad,
or just pooping ducks? Am I supposed to
love or hate them? Are machines going to
take over and destroy us, or are we already machines? Oh, the costume’s back on. How’d you do that? So in the rest of
this playlist, we’re going to take a look
at the robots of today and peer into the future to find
out what these robots are all about. Stay tuned. Tuned, or just keep clicking
refresh on your subscription feed on YouTube. (ROBOT VOICE) Thank
you for watching. If you liked video,
please click on like. If you would like to
subscribe to channel, click on the subscribe button. If you would like to support
the shows financially, please visit our Patreon page. Next up, Craig human goes to
Carnegie Mellon Institution and checks out their robots. [ROBOT NOISES] MAN: Can you do a robot dance? [ROBOT NOISES] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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