Have you ever tried to engage in a conversation with your pet? You may try, but the relationship will be dim and condescending, as your cat, dog or other animal does not answer with speech. When we talk, however, we do speak to humans. The natural user interface with a machine is not a machine, but a simulacrum of a human, which is very realistic in terms of appearance and behaviour. It makes it, therefore, more difficult to understand that they are robots. This is the future of our world: realistic sculptures that have life.
Working backwards in time, many ancient figures had already thought – somehow and perhaps without realising it – about the human-machine interface. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in 322 BC in his book Politics:
“For, if each tool could perform its task on command or by anticipating instructions, and if like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods of Hephaestus – which the poet describes as having “entered the assembly of the gods of their own accord” – shuttles wove cloth by themselves, and picks played the lyre, a master craftsman would not need assistants, and masters would not need slaves.”
Aristotle was speculating that human automata could someday guarantee human equality. Later on, in 250 BC, a Greek engineer named Philon created the Automatic Servant. It was a human-like robot, representing a maid holding a jug of wine in her right hand. By placing their cup in the palm of her left hand, the servant would fill the visitors’ cup with wine and water when desired. More recently, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) created a humanoid called the Automaton Knight, that was capable, thanks to a series of pulleys and cables, of independent motion such as sitting down, raising its visor, or manoeuvring its arms. In the 18th century, humanoid automatons were more frequent. The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire of Neuchâtel, for instance, houses a set of three automata built by the Jacquet-Droz family, called the musician, the draughtsman and the writer. In the last couple of centuries, we were able to produce magnificent and realistic statues – Rodin’s statues prove it.
Today, technology provides us with new tools to build statues and sculptures, enhanced with simulated life. In one respect, as slavery has disappeared and dull work has decreased, we can say that we have followed Aristotle’s dream. Almost everyone can work with dignity. We must move toward a society that is populated with both real people – humans – and with humanoid robots of various human shapes – the new living and realistic humanoid sculptures. Immensely clever than us, they will help us in many ways. With slavery will be a distant memory, Aristotle will smile from his grave.
I am thrilled to follow this dream.
Nadia Thalmann – NTU