Cuckoo clocks, chess-playing devices, and other automata had been popular for centuries when Czech dramatist Karel Čapek introduced the word “robot” to the world with his 1920 play R.U.R. This exhibition, Automata: From Robots to A.I., looks at how robots have evolved—in practice and the popular imagination—from their earliest incarnations as clunky, metal-clad contraptions into elegant machines. Mechanical marvels have permeated modern living, building cars in factories, performing surgery, exploring planets, and acting as social companions. They inspire wonder, fear, intense study, and speculation, particularly as the work of robotics and artificial intelligence experts advances toward making real what was previously fantastical science fiction in literature and film. While developments in the field have grown exponentially since the first mobile robot, dubbed “Shakey,” debuted at Stanford in 1966, we still have a long way to go before autonomous, humanlike androids such as those depicted in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot walk the Earth.
©2019 University of Southern California