How many films and TV programmes did you watch growing up? How many times did you wonder about how far we, as humans, could push the bounds of technology? Did you think that one day C3PO, R2D2 and the T-800 would walk among us, a reality no longer consigned to the realms of science fiction? Well the latest exhibition at the Science Museum showcases just where we’ve got to so far on that quest for artificial intelligence in human form.
I bought Phil tickets to the Robots exhibition for his birthday, and we headed over to the Science Museum in South Kensington last Saturday to check it out. I have to admit, I didn’t read as much of the information about it as I normally would, because I was so blown away by the actual robots themselves. So this may be a little more photo-heavy than most of my posts, but if you’ve read anything I’ve written online you’ll know that I always write too much, so that’s probably not a bad thing!
The exhibition started off with automatons, the original name for mechanical devices made in imitation of human beings. There was a lot of clockwork, a host of mechanical limbs, and even a clockwork spider, which I thought was genius!
Then we moved on to what you might describe as more stereotypical robots. These were huge, beyond life-size!
We also came face to…metal?…with the T-800 from the Terminator films…
…And we got to relive our childhood through some of the robots on display! These two Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots took me right back to Toy Story 2.
I was fascinated by Maria. She starred in a film called Metropolis, released in 1927. Possibly the first robot film, it came about only 7 years after the term ‘robot’ was first coined from the Czech words for ‘forced labour’. Cheery, no?
The Telenoid may look like some kind of strange starfish, but its purpose is for remote hugging during things like Skyp calls. Remember The Big Bang Theory episode where Howard and Raj try to persuade Leonard to use a remote kissing device with robotic lips? Well it’s something similar to that! You hug the Telenoid and the person at the other end hugs theirs, and you get the sensations of being hugged through that. A nice sentiment, but utterly surreal!As you can see from the pics, there is a heavy emphasis on trying to make robots as human as possible. Which crosses all kind of lines when they look as lifelike as the baby at the top of the page, the girl above, or as creepy as those two children. Which, by the way, are exactly the sort of thing that horror films are made of…
Maybe it’s some kind of God complex in us, wanting to be able to make by hand something which seems so similar to us. Yet I also I think something in our psyche still stops us from wanting robots to look exactly like humans, that sense that there is something very wrong in something which looks like us and can act like us, but is nothing more than a machine, all metal and plastic and electronics.
I was astounded by some of thee innovations which went into these robots were – they could play trumpets, operate machinery, and work in partnership with a human being, sensing what they were doing and helping to construct items together. Some were more aimed at entertainment, but a lot of them were created with the aim of making our lives easier and more technologically advanced.
It’s a bit unnerving to think of all the things we have taught and programmed robots to do, and what we may develop in the years to come. Perhaps those God complexes, or the drive to create more artificial intelligent life – will be something we grow to regret. But while the sentient robot helpers – or menacing robot armies – of the future remain a work of science fiction, it’s fascinating to explore this exhibition which documents our progress so far.
Robots runs until 3rd September at the Science Museum.