Did you know that the robot's name in the TV show 'Lost In Space' was 'Robot'?
It's true! While I have nothing but fond memories of Judy and Penny.....I mean Will, Robot and Dr. Smith, I find it slightly amusing that 'Robot' was the best name they could come up with for a robot.
Then again, in 'Forbidden Planet' they named the robot 'Robby', so that's not much better.
Now, you're probably* asking yourself why is there a picture of a cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head being used instead of a picture of Robot the robot?
Because, as well as having an uninspired name, Robot is also not as cute as a cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head. Hey, if I could have come up with a legitimate reason for using a picture of Penny, I would have. But she has even less to do with this post than a picture of cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head. (yes....yes I will see how many times I can use that phrase in this post)
You know.....if I'm not mistaken, I do believe that today is Monday. Which would make it Made Up Monday. The day where I tell you a fact, and you all get to decide if it's true or if I made it up. Shall we begin? The cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head thinks we should. So let's appease the cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head and move right along.
Robots. Lots of people have written about them. Isaac Asimov, Alan Parsons, Will Smith....those three men all had projects centered around robots. In fact, their projects were all titled 'I Robot'. Of those three, only Asimov's book 'I Robot' and Alan Parsons album/song 'I Robot' were any good. The Will Smith movie 'I Robot' was something a cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head horked up after a night of licking it's butt. And that's saying something. Because the Alan Parsons song 'I Robot' is just a bunch of synth music, like most of his other crap.
But robots. The word robot has only been around for slightly less than 100 years. Czech playwright Karal Capek first used the word to describe a human shaped automaton in his play R.U.R. Since then, robots have featured in countless books and movies. They are good, bad and ambivalent. They may save humanity, destroy humanity, or just not care. And they can look like anything. Sometimes they are depicted as humans, other times as insects. And even once as a cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head.
But, what was the first robot? Mythology tells us that the ancient Jewish people had Golems. And that the Roman god Vulcan created mechanical servants. And we all know about Bubo, the mechanical owl created by the Greek goddess Athena to torment her cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head.
But those are all mythological.
There are also the stories about Ctesibius, a Greek inventor who used pneumatics and hydraulics to make automatic clocks and organs in 270 BCE, and Hero of Alexandrea who built automated devices and machines powered by steam, water and air pressure in ~60 CE.
But, they aren't really robots as we consider them. They were machines. And not all machines are robots. Robots are a type of machine that imitates the actions of a living being.
So what was the first?
Get your decision caps on kiddies, because I'm about to tell you. Or lie to you.
There is a text from the third century in China by one Han Fei Zi who describes how the Chinese emperor Mu of Zhu hired the mechanical engineer Yan Shi to create for him a wonder the likes of which had never been seen before. So Yan Shi did.
And what did he do? Why he built a series of wooden birds that used gears and tension to store kinetic energy that would cause the wings to flap. And when thrown just right, they would fly. For a few seconds, at least. The birds couldn't take off or land on their own. In fact, if the bird wasn't caught with the utmost care, it would be destroyed. These were fragile birds. Alas, none have survived to present time. But based on the diagrams Han Fei Zi included in his writings, modern experts have duplicated the birds and have found that they do indeed fly.
So my friends, did a cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head disguised as a Chinese engineer in the third century really make a wooden bird that flew?
I'll be back on the morrow to supply the answer.
* probably not
Nine. I used the phrase "cat with the plastic cover from a stack of 50 CD's on it's head"
nine ten times in this post.