The robots and its ancestors


‘In ancient times the word automata was used to indicate those machines, of no apparent usefulness, which represented men or animals and which would move in a seemingly spontaneous way by means of levers, clockworks or ropes. The ancient history of these devices is represented by statues with moving heads, arms and legs: they were used as magic instruments and were operated with weights, water jets or steam, obtained by heating up mercury. Classical and Medieval literature is full of descriptions of fabulous automata, of mechanical creatures and of talking statues. In terms of practical realisations, the greatest certain example of a machine replacing human labour in full is the so called “Jacquemart”, the man in bronze which took over from bell-ringer, starting from the 13th century. With the advance of mechanical technology, the automata became capable of extremely complicated and precise movements: the 18th century was the era of maximum splendour. Man was able to create, just to name a few, cymbal players, diligent scribes, skilful flautists e drummers, even a duck able to peck up food and digest it! The “program” of the scrivano-disegnatore, by the famous Jacquet-Droz of Neuchatel, is made up of 36 discs, 25 cm in circumference. The inventor, by making incisions accurate to 1/10 of a millimetre, was able to place onto the circumference of one disc 25,000 items of information which, multiplied by the 36 discs, resulted in 900,000 different combinations of movements. Over a century later, with the advent of electronics, man’s creativity and imagination moved forward: from the mere imitation of gestures to the imitation of the brain. Cybernetics was then born and the history of robots became populated by strange and curious animals: electronic turtles, foxes able to “see” and “smell” all around them and even to orientate themselves. It was the Czech writer Karel Capéck who created the word “Robot”. His 1921 drama “R.U.R.” (Rossum’s Universal Robots) associated the word ròbot (from the Slav ròbota, work) to the word rozum (from the Slav, intellect, here turned into the name of Rossum). In the story, Rossum builds some machines able to create artificial men without feelings, who will end up destroying their own creator, as often happens in many stories about robots. The rapid development of electronics and the level of perfection reached by the electrical mechanical technology, have made it possible to create machines with a remarkable ability to handle tools and objets. These machines can also be easily programmed to perform very complex movements; their memory can store a very high number of instructions and can also react in front of certain emergency situations which might occur in their environment.’


21 Agosto 1983 - 28 Agosto 1983


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions