225: A Brief History Of Artificial Life

A Brief History Of Artificial Life

A mechanical monk in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1560 and a videogame NPC in 2009 have more in common than you think. Jim Rossignol looks at the history of automata and how they've managed to captivate audiences for millennia.

Read Full Article

Interesting piece. It should be pretty much taken for granted that anyone interested in the closing points will have read / seen Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Bladerunner, but they're always worht mentioning in such discussions.


You can fool some people under controlled circumstances.

Or on the other hand, perhaps that will be the day we cease to value ourselves as alive - the day we admit to merely being self-built machines. The end of the sense of entitlement. The end of feeling like we're special. I look forward to that day.

Once artificial beings reach the point where we can easily forget they aren't living organisms, yes, the wonder with them will end. . .

. . .and the prejudice will begin.

MissAshley: Let's just hope we're not the victims? ;) Although I like the idea of our species finally getting to feel like the underdog.

I've heard it said that if the world had never gone through the Dark Ages, that we would already be exploring space. Can you imagine how lifelike and real, barring some ELE (Extinction Level Event) or another forced recession back into our primitive ancestry, the automatons and video games of 600 years from now will be? Maybe even that is too far. In the forty years or so of Video Gaming History, think of how far we have come--from 8-bit pixels to the 1080p Hi-Definition spectroscopy that we willingly and gleefully subject ourselves to, day in, day out. The automaton has always been used for entertainment, in almost every form--music, comedy, tragedy, visual stimulation, and, with the modern age, even physical pleasure. The one piece that's still separating us from them is that we're conscious, and they're not. Sentience, spirit, conscience, soul, organic programming--call it what you will, but until we figure out the specific chain of chemicals that induce emotion, memory, sensation, excitement, or arousal, there will always be that gap, and as long as that gap exists, people will continuously be trying to make them more and more lifelike, giving them morals, ethics, and emotions. Until we realize the full potential of these automatons in letting them become as we are, we shall continue to be obsessed with them.

I was waiting for you to compare the duck automaton to modern day Betsy-Wetsy dolls, lol.
Great read, it was very well written.

That was a mighty interesting read, although I wouldn't want my masterpiece to be known for its ability to poop.

Maybe there's a kind of intellectual Uncanny Valley here; just as something that looks almost but not quite like a real human being will be much more unsettling than something that is a bit more stylized, something that behaves almost but not like a real intelligence feels unsettling to us, while a series of canned responses feels more natural.

Also, why aren't any of those geniuses mentioned in Steampunk literature? They're all about Charles Babbage.

Hmm. It's well written, but I couldn't help thinking that I was reading a long wikipediapage.

Pleasantly written article, but I was still very disappointed. What about Creatures? What about Greythumb, Darwin@home, the evogrid, Conway's Game of Life, the Noble Ape simulation? I'm probably not doing the body of research any justice, but there's more depth to this topic than Rossignol's article presents.

"What neither automata nor videogame characters have ever been able to do, however, is fool us into thinking that they really are alive." Not necessarily, many people considered the artificial organisms in "Creatures" to be so real that they debated online the ethics of intentionally torturing the little guys.

I enjoyed the piece. I want one of those sh**ting ducks.

Great read, very intriguing. I wonder if we will ever get to the point where we breech the AI bubble and create a self aware being. If so than we will find many things have changed. Do these new self aware being's get the same rights and protection under the laws? It's all very interesting. :)

Very interesting. I enjoyed that.

People haven't always been so good at Automation for Entertainment though. The practice has its own charlatans. The famous Chess Machine from Persia I think it was (somewhere in that area of the world if I remember correctly) for example. It could play chess well enough to beat most people. But ended up just being a chess master sat inside it controlling it with rods.

Rddj623 - It's going to be extremely hard to get to this point. Almost every religion will probably try and block it as creating life. If we do manage it though I think they will start being treated like slaves. Initially at least. Though you could argue that selective breeding is also manufacturing life and since dogs, horses and many other animals are put through this process without the result being treated as being lesser creatures, you could say creating self-aware AI is similar to it and thus should be treated fairly too. Personally I don't see any reason they should not be afforded the same rights as a natural human. As long as both sides are treated fairly there should be no problem.

I had no idea that automata where around so early in our history - I had heard of the mechanism that was essiently an astronomic calculator, but I'm surprised by both the wide spread nature and time scale of the automata you describe.

As for video game "automata" (NPCs), I sadly can often feel their unreal, not intelligent nature, and it saddens me - I want something 'alive' when I game, something to react intelligently and so forth. Of course, if we did have true AI, I doubt it would be moral to sell them as components in a game... sadly.


Another thought - although the idea of 'automata that do work' has been around for seemingly as long as automata have, it seems we are the first society to actually achieve it - am I correct on that point? We use them in industry for factory work, for example. And just coming into use over here in britain are robots in hospitals for pill deliveries and the like - not to mention the use of robotic care devices that Japan are working on now.

Are we very far off of house hold helper automata? I really can not say.


Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
Register for a free account here