So to prepare you for the upcoming robotic battle of Armageddon we wanted to look back at a trio of literature’s famous, little known or very old automatons.
The term ‘robot’ first appeared in Karel Capek’s R.U.R. a 1920 play about the creation of artificial beings, beasts of burden, that eventually rise up and lead to the extinction of mankind.
But how far back do automatons, metal beings of levels of sentience, existed in our historical culture? And which robots punctuate each evolution of popular culture’s interaction with artificial beings?
We can go back to the 3rd century BCE to find the guardian of Crete, Talos. Possibly the earliest metal man, Talos a bronze guardian of the Mediterranean island. Featured in the epic poem Argonautica, Talos circled the island three times each day with mighty strides to guard against pirates. His weapon of choice to crush the seaborne invaders? Giant rocks hurled by the humanoid bronze guardian.
From the late 19th century emerged Hadaly, the android mistress of The Future Eve by Auguste Villers de L’Isle Adam. Hadaly is created by a fictionalized Thomas Edison for a man who is smitten with a woman but finds her intellectually hollow. Through the story of mans insecure relationships with women, considered a deeply misogynistic take, the character of Hadaly becomes an icon of robotic fiction.
Considered the first robot entry in modern fiction, Tik-Tok from Frank L. Baum’s Oz series embodies the unfeeling, yet loyal mechanical servant. A windup creation, Tik Tok is discovered by Dorothy imprisioned and unwound in a cave. A protector and servant, Tik Tok cannot self-wind himself, therefore always relying on his masters. Requiring windings for everything from thinking to movement, Tik Tok is a basic but important entry into the ever expanding concept of what robots could be.
Of course as we go deeper into the 20th century we come upon the robots of R.U.R., Gnut from Farewell to the Master and the seminal creations of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot collection; each adding a new component to the historical body mechanical.
Servant, friend or enemy, from the earliest portrayals to today, robots can embody the coldest and most generous aspects of their creators.