See 500 years of robots Charllotte Abbot shakes hands with Pepper an interactive French-Japanese robot, during a press preview for the Robots exhibition held at the Science Museum in London, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
See 500 years of robots
Lexile

Inspired by his belief that human beings are essentially terrified of robots, Ben Russell has set about charting the evolution of automatons. It is for an exhibition he hopes will force people to think about how androids and other robotic forms can enhance their lives.
 
Robots, says Russell, have been with us for centuries, as "Robots," his exhibit at London's Science Museum, shows.
 
From a 15th century Spanish clockwork monk who kisses his rosary and beats his breast in contrition, to a Japanese "childoid" newsreader, created in 2014 with lifelike facial expressions, the exhibition tracks the development of robotics and mankind's obsession with replicating itself.
 
Arnold Schwarzenegger's unstoppable Terminator cyborg is there. So is Robby the Robot, star of the 1956 film "Forbidden Planet." They represent the horror and the fantasy of robots with minds of their own.
 
There are other examples, too. The exhibit shows factory production-line machines blamed for taking people's jobs in recent decades. There is a "telenoid communications android" for hugging during long-distance phone calls to ease loneliness and there is Kaspar, a "minimally expressive social robot" built like a small boy. Kaspar is designed to help ease social interactions for children with autism.
 
"Robots haven't been these terrifying things. They've been magical, fascinating, useful, and they generally tend to do what we want them to do," said Russell, who works at the science museum and was the lead curator of the exhibition.
 
And while it's human nature to be worried in the face of change, Russell said, the exhibit should help people "think about what we are as humans" and realize that if robots are "going to come along, you've got a stake in how they develop."
 
A total of 100 robots are set in five different historic periods in the show. The exhibit explores how religion, industrialization, pop culture and visions of the future have shaped society.
 
For Rich Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot Company in London, robotics is about what these increasingly sophisticated machines can do for humans to make life easier, particularly for the elderly or the impaired.
 
"I'm naturally lazy and got involved so that I could get robots to do things for me," Walker said. His company has developed a robotic hand. It can replicate 24 of the 27 natural movements of the human hand.
 
Humans have a one percent failure rate at repetitive tasks. Only committing errors about once every two hours, the hand could replace humans on production lines, he said.
 
Walker concedes further erosion of certain types of jobs if inventions such as his are successful. He says having repetitive tasks performed by automatons would free up people to adopt value-added roles.
 
"The issue is to rebuild the economy so that it has a holistic approach to employment," he said.
 
This, in turn, leads to questions. Some were raised at the exhibition.  For instance, should owners of robots pay taxes on the value of their output as part of the new industrial revolution?

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How could robots have been made 500 years ago?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (5)
  • isaiahm-pla
    2/14/2017 - 01:36 p.m.

    Ben Russel has been documenting the evolution of machines and automatons. Going as far back as 500 years to document a religious creation that would kiss rosaries. He believes humans have an innate fear of machines and wants to exfoliate this predisposition. Seeing some of my father's coworkers suffer from this automation process is slightly frightening as the proposition of low skilled jobs becoming few and far between would drastically change the economy. Automation would have a massive affect on Neenah as the foundry could become largely autonomous.

  • bens-pla
    2/14/2017 - 08:32 p.m.

    This story is about an exhibition in the London Science Museum about the history of robots. People usually see robots as a scary figure that is responsible for human destruction, but Ben Russell does not agree, he sees them as wondrous creations that can eliminate human error. This has to do with civil engagement because if people are or aren't happy with the exhibition that is explained in the article, they will most likely speak openly about it to have their thoughts about it heard. If I had a question, I would wonder how much money this costs to make.

  • lukej1-pla
    2/15/2017 - 10:20 a.m.

    The article outlines a specific historic robotic exhibit in London while also exploring some of the more ethical issues in this "new wave" of robotic industrialization. The exhibit highlights a number of pieces throughout history, from a 15th century figure of a monk that kisses the rosary and pounds his chest, to a 2014 lifelike Japanese robot that reads the news, as well as a few others throughout film and pop culture history. Ben Russell and Rich Walker, both significant figures in the development of this exhibit, have a similar outlook on robotics in that they feel it can be successfully integrated into our growth as a society and a human race.

    I really liked the article as I have always been fascinated with technology, robotics in particular, and the feats they have been able to achieve in the area of robotics. While I do acknowledge that it is pretty scary how far technology has come in terms of what is recorded and stored, I am very curious to see how this will be utilized in the near future.

  • landone4-hei
    2/15/2017 - 12:05 p.m.

    Robots could have been made 500 years ago ,because clock workers in the 15 century almost did and had the skill to do so.

  • monicas-ste
    2/16/2017 - 02:27 p.m.

    This is so insane. This was really cool to see. I enjoyed reading this.

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