Friday, December 14, 2018

Adrienne Mayor's "Gods and Robots"

Adrienne Mayor is a research scholar in Classics and the History of Science, and a Berggruen Fellow 2018-19, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology, and reported the following:
Who first imagined robots, intelligent machines, and replicants? Gods and Robots reveals the surprisingly ancient roots of the impulse to create artificial life and animated statues. More 2,500 years ago, ancient Greek myths envisioned robots, self-moving devices, and androids that were described as "made, not born" and programmed to carry out tasks. These ancient science fictions show that ideas about automatons could be imagined as early as the time of Homer (about 700 BC), long before technology actually made them possible.

By the fourth century BC, real inventors began to construct genuine self-moving objects and robotic servants capable of a range of activities. These synthetic marvels evoked ancient versions of the "Uncanny Valley" effect--a phrase invented in 1970 to refer to the disquieting, creepy sensation we experience when encountering hyper-realistic robots that blur the line between what is real and what is artificial.

Page 99 falls in chapter 5, "Living Statues," which explains how that eerie "Uncanny Valley" sensation occurred in antiquity, too. Classical Greek artists and sculptors developed innovations and technologies to make life-sized statues so incredibly real-looking that viewers felt shock and awe, almost expecting the figures to breathe, move, or speak. Page 99 illustrates examples of the remarkable realism that was achieved, with photographs of four splendid statues made in antiquity, two of them by the brilliant sculptor Myron of Athens, about 450 BC. The three bronze statues, an old boxer and two young athletes, had realistic hair and beards, delicate eyelashes, inlaid eyes of ivory and gems, lips, pearly teeth, inlaid fingernails, and defined musculature. The marble discus thrower's muscles, veins, and tendons are also exquisitely detailed. All of these statues were realistically painted in antiquity. It's easy to imagine how startling it would have been to come upon such a figure in a temple at night, lit only by moonlight or a flickering oil lamp.
Learn more about Gods and Robots at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World.

--Marshal Zeringue