Course Handout - A Brief History of Automata

Copyright Notice: This material was written and published in Wales by Derek J. Smith (Chartered Engineer). It forms part of a multifile e-learning resource, and subject only to acknowledging Derek J. Smith's rights under international copyright law to be identified as author may be freely downloaded and printed off in single complete copies solely for the purposes of private study and/or review. Commercial exploitation rights are reserved. The remote hyperlinks have been selected for the academic appropriacy of their contents; they were free of offensive and litigious content when selected, and will be periodically checked to have remained so. Copyright 2003-2018, Derek J. Smith.

First published [v1.0] dated 08:30 BST 10th June 2003. This version [2.0 - copyright] 09:00 BST 8th July 2018.


Although this paper is reasonably self-contained, it is best read as a subordinate file to Part 4 of our seven-part review of how successfully the psychological study of biological short-term memory (STM) has incorporated the full range of concepts and metaphors available to it from the computing industry. To go directly to the superordinate content file, click here, to go to the superordinate menu file, click here, and to see the author's homepage, click here.



The modern robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) industries use technology which is typically less than a hundred years old, and yet what they are trying to achieve cannot properly be understood without delving much more deeply into history. Two thousand years ago, for example, automata were reputedly already capable of rudimentary synthetic sound, and legends of metal men and statues coming to life can be found in the works of Homer, Plato, Pindar, Tacitus, and Pliny. This field has already been repeatedly reviewed by authors such as Cohen (1966), Ash (1977), Aleksander and Burnett (1983), Pratt (1987), Mazlish (1993), Lindsay (1997), Franklin (2000), and Wood (2002), and here are some of the key points again:




Aleksander, I. and Burnett, P. (1983), Reinventing Man: The Robot Becomes Reality (Harmondsworth: Pelican).

Ash, B. (Ed.) (1977), The Visual Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (London: Pan).

Cohen, J. (1966), Human Robots in Myth and Science (London: Allen and Unwin).

Franklin, H.B. (2000), 'Computers in fiction', in The Encyclopaedia of Computer Science (4th Edition), Ralston, A., Reilly, E.D., and Hemmendinger, D. (Eds.) (New York: Groves).

Heyl, E. (1964), 'An unhurried view of automata', The Magic Cauldron, Supplement #13.

Lindsay, D. (1997), 'Talking head', American Heritage of Invention and Technology, 13, pp. 57-63.

Mazlish, B. (1993), The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).

Pratt, V. (1987), Thinking Machines: The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence (Oxford: Blackwell).

Spence, L. (1915), Myths and Legends of Egypt (London: Harrap).

Wood, G. (2002), Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life (London: Faber and Faber).