artificial humans and mad scientists - Page 2

toys of paradise: early robots, computers, and weapons
The fulfillment of the contemporary dream of a heavenly
techno-utopia ruled by robotic gods can be traced back to an ancient fascination
with artificial people or automata. In ancient Egypt and Greece,
the making of lifelike figures was motivated by both religious and artistic
feelings. ‘‘Crude jointed figurines were gradually replaced by statues with
pretensions to realistic simulation of the human form,’’ says John Cohen
in Human Robots in Myth and Science. ‘‘Their fabrication was in the hands
of priests because statues were made to be worshipped.’’ 21 The prophetic
statues, or talking gods, replied to questions by means of secret manipulation,
either a nod of the head or the movement of an arm. Taking religious
technology even further, inventor Heron—known as the Machine
Man—engineered miracles for churches: singing birds, mechanical saints,
invisible trumpet blasts, and mirrors that seemed to materialize spirits.22
In the Middle Ages, Albertus Magnus (1204–1282) spent thirty years devising
a mobile robot—built fromleather,wood, andmetal—that was able to
answer questions and solve problems. It dared salute its master’s formidable
pupil, the future St. Thomas Aquinas. Convinced that this had something
to do with the devil, Aquinas tossed the robot into a fire.23
With his mechanistic view of the physical world, Descartes (1596–1650)
launched the modern era of automata. Mechanical grim reapers lurched
around elaborate clocks, reminding people of their death whenever they
checked the time. Among the most famous automata of the seventeenth
century, the Strasbourg clock featured moving animals, among which was
a wrought-iron cock—a guilt-inducing reminder of St. Peter’s denial of
Christ. At noon the cock opened its beak, stretched out its tongue, flapped
its wings, spread out its feathers, and crowed.24 These mechanical clocks
reflected Descartes’s clockwork notion of the cosmos. Descartes himself
was fascinated with automatic things. He designed several machines, including
acrobatic statues, an artificial dove, and a flying partridge. He even
constructed a female servant automaton that he called Francine (after his
illegitimate daughter, who died at age five).While on a sea voyage, a passenger
who believed Descartes employed the robot as a demonic sex toy
threw it into the water.
In the eighteenth century, animated dolls became increasingly lifelike.
Automata fantasies were stimulated by Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782)
with his cam-controlled musical toys, such as a mandolin player that sang
and kept timewith its foot and a piano player that moved its head and simulated
the act of breathing. His gilded copper duck emulated the functions
of eating, drinking, and digesting.His ‘‘ingeniousmechanical toys . . . were
to become prototypes for the engines of the industrial revolution,’’ says
John Cohen.25 De Vaucanson also invented automatic loom control using
perforated cards in 1740, transferring the punched wooden card and cam
controls employed in his mechanical toys and musical boxes to the work
machines. This was not a commercial success, but twenty years later Joseph
Marie Jacquard (1752–1834) adopted his ideas and revolutionized the fabric
industry with a perfected automatic loom driven by punched cards. De
Vaucanson and Jacquard’s punched cards took on a life of their own, becoming
the foundation of early computing. Charles Babbage used them as
the controlling mechanism of his theoretical Analytical Engine. Years later
Herman Hollerity utilized the punched cards for computer programming
and data storage in building the information empire IBM (International
Business Machines).26
While certainly influencing the development of technology, the animated
toy machines of the nineteenth century—made by Gustave Vichy
and Leopold Lambert, among others—had more to do with art-making
and playful parody than with social reality. Automata shook society when
they moved from culture to military aggression and factory production.
The methods of the individual gunsmith were replaced by massproduction
technology pioneered by military engineers in the early nineteenth
century. Industrial robots thoroughly changed the nature of human
society by changing the nature of work when, in post–Henry Ford facto-
ries, machines replaced humans or turned humans into assembly-line machines.
‘‘What is lesswell known is that the original impetus for this change
was not of civilian, but of military origin,’’ says Manuel De Landa in War
in the Age of Intelligent Machines. ‘‘Indeed, the nineteenth-century military
drive to create weapons with perfectly interchangeable parts marked the
beginning of the age of the rationalization of labor processes.’’ 27 In this
fusion of technology and weapons, robotic command structures—developed
in arsenals—were later exported to civilian factories.
The late nineteenth century was the golden age of toy automata and
a period of bourgeois optimism about the utopian possibilities of technology.
Techno-priest and writer Isaac Asimov notes: ‘‘The Industrial Revolution
seemed suddenly to uplift human power and to bring on dreams of
a technological Utopia on Earth in place of the mythic one in Heaven.’’28
Artificial people as weapons of destruction and objects of terror did not
fully emerge until the mechanized horror of WorldWar I. But the origins
of widespread technophobia can be found much earlier in the myths and
folklore about artificial humans.
homunculus and the golem:
weaponized artificial humans
The fantasy of powerful machines that catered to humans
and controlled an unruly natural world goes back to the origins of our culture.
In ancient myth, Pygmalion carved in ivory the likeness of the goddess
Aphrodite, then fell in lovewith the statue. The goddess—flattered by
the facsimile—brought her to life as the ideal woman Galatea.29 Homer’s
Iliad tells of the Greek god of technology, Hephaestus, who forges from
bronze a gigantic metallic humanoid named Talos that ceaselessly patrols
the shores of Crete, fighting off enemy ships with rocks. This is an early
vision of a technologicalweapon. In addition, this giant pre-robot, according
to J. P.Telotte in Replications, ‘‘typified their hopes for a rationalmastery
over an unpredictable universe.’’ 30
This desire to control nature extended to the occult philosophers and
alchemists of the Renaissance, who were unsatisfied with the mindless
entertainment value of mechanical ducks, musical toys, and clockwork
dummies. Their own fascination with mechanically simulating human behavior
fueled a deeper masculinist drive to create a creature of flesh and
blood without female participation. Anticipating corporate technophiles,
these arcane technicians sought to make a profit and transfigure humanity.
Blendingmagic, spirituality, and pre-science, the alchemistsweremetallurgists
who wanted to change worthless metal to gold, but who also sought
to make humans immortal with a longevity potion. The alchemists’ magical
techniques were designed to bring about human perfection: ‘‘the creation,
through technology, of the millennial kingdom that crowns Christian
myth,’’ as Eric Davis puts it.31
The alchemist and Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493–1541)—father of
modern pharmacology and inspiration for Goethe’s Dr. Faust—came up
with a method for the creation of humans. Lacking a microscope, he believed
that each sperm contained a miniature man. This patriarchal view
required the femalewomb only for nourishment and protection. With this
in mind, and hoping to completely eliminate women from reproduction,
he developed a recipe for the creation of a tiny human, or homunculus:
produce semen, hermetically seal the semen in a jar, place the jar within
fresh horse dung (for warmth), nourish the mass with blood. After forty
days, this mass should begin to move and transform into a human infant,
but much smaller.32 Paracelsus never proved his theory correct, though he
spent an enormous amount of time and sperm trying. The idea found its
way into Goethe’s Faust. Dr. Faust’s student Wagner, with the assistance
of Mephistopheles, alchemically creates a homunculus who vainly seeks to
become fully human.
The secret arts produced an even more fascinating man-made creature,
the golem. Not produced organically, the golem was molded of clay, emulating
God’s creation of Adam. Designed to serve and protect humans like
the robotic Talos, the golem was infused with life through a kind of mystical
incantation—a medieval method of programming—and the stamping
of the ‘‘divine name’’ on the creature’s forehead. This religious power—
vested in rabbis—originated in the Sefer Yetzirah, or Book of Creation, part
of the Talmud.33 Besides providing humans with a slave to do their bidding,
the creation of this artificial man fused religion, magic, weaponry,
and science in a mystical rite that enabled the high priest scientist and his
followers to partake in divine union with the Creator.
The golem saga was awakened to new life in the seventeenth century
when alchemy and magic renewed the longing to master nature by supernatural
means. As human automata became fashionable in the eighteenth
century, the story of the golem was adopted in poems and novels. With
its literary application came a transformation from servant/protector to
revengeful monster. In a famous telling, the creator and master of the
golem was Rabbi Loew of Prague who—just as God had breathed life into
Adam—breathed the name of God into a clay figure. His golem was a
mindless, obedient subhuman, a soulless monster that lived only to serve
its master. On the Sabbath the rabbi ordinarily deactivated the creature so
that its perverse existence would not disrupt the holy day. But when the
rabbi once forgot his Sabbath duty to deactivate, the golem turned into a
howling, rampaging demon until its existence was terminated forever.
The menace of the golem and a fascination with automata are fused in
the prescient novel The Sandman (1816) by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Reflecting a
romantic rebellion against the tyranny of rationalism and integrating science
with the magic of alchemy, The Sandman imagines a sinister automaton—
amazing in its simulation but diabolically animated. A mentally unstable
young student named Nathaniel, whose father has been killed in an
explosion while dabbling in alchemy, exclaims fearfully, ‘‘Something terrible
has entered my life!’’ 34 He refers to Olympia, the beautiful daughter
of his teacher Professor Spallanzani. His fear has been aroused by her
overly precise manner. ‘‘She walks with a curiously measured gait; every
movement seems as if controlled by clockwork.’’ Olympia plays piano and
sings with the ‘‘unpleasant soulless regularity of a machine.’’ 35 Eventually
Nathaniel discovers, to his horror, that Olympia is a machine. Seductive
and threatening, Olympia influenced and prefigured the aggressive female
robots of the future, such as the witch robot Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis,
the nuclear bomb–enhanced cyborg in Eve of Destruction (1991), or the
nanotechnological TX fembot in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003).
Olympia has been alchemically produced by Professor Spallanzani with
the help of the evil Coppelius. The Sandman therefore provided the literary
prototype of another science fiction icon—the mad scientist, a figure
intimately connected with the creation of evil artificial humans. ‘‘The
modern myth of the mad scientist took shape over the course of the 19th
century,’’ 36 writes David Skal in Screams of Reason, as scientific and technological
progress slowly became associated with numerous destabilizing
developments. Darwin’s evolutionary theories resulted in humanity’s biggest
ego-smashing since Copernicus knocked the earth from the center
of the universe. In addition industrial machines radically dislocated the
nineteenth-century social order. ‘‘All varieties of customs, habits, attitudes,
ideas, and social and political institutions are caught up in its flow, altered,
and set on a new foundation,’’ says Langdon Winner in Autonomous Technology.
37 A growing suspicion of technology exploded in the Luddite rebellion.
This subversive movement of workers urged and practiced the
destruction of factory machines because they caused extensive unemployment.
In this uneasy atmosphere, the scientist and his spreading technology
began to provoke distrust and fear.

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