Hardware and Electronics History Networking

Seiko Epson Corporation

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Seiko Epson Corporation (セイコーエプソン株式会社, Seikō Epuson Kabushiki-gaisha) (Epson being an abbreviation for “Son of Electronic Printer”),[2] or simply Epson, is a Japanese electronics company and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computer printers, and information and imaging related equipment. Headquartered in SuwaNagano, Japan,[3] the company has numerous subsidiaries worldwide and manufactures inkjetdot matrix and laser printersscannersdesktop computers, business, multimedia and home theatre projectors, large home theatre televisionsrobots and industrial automation equipment, point of sale docket printers and cash registerslaptopsintegrated circuitsLCD components and other associated electronic components. It is one of three core companies of the Seiko Group, a name traditionally known for manufacturing Seiko timepieces since its founding.


The roots of Seiko Epson Corporation go back to a company called Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd. which was founded in May 1942[4] by Hisao Yamazaki, a local clock shop owner and former employee of K. Hattori, in Suwa, Nagano, Japan. Daiwa Kogyo was supported by an investment from the Hattori family (founder of the Seiko Group) and began as a manufacturer of watch parts for Daini Seikosha (currently Seiko Instruments). The company started operation in a 230-square-metre (2,500 sq ft) renovated miso storehouse with 22 employees.


The roots of Seiko Epson Corporation go back to a company called Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd. which was founded in May 1942[4] by Hisao Yamazaki, a local clock shop owner and former employee of K. Hattori, in Suwa, Nagano, Japan. Daiwa Kogyo was supported by an investment from the Hattori family (founder of the Seiko Group) and began as a manufacturer of watch parts for Daini Seikosha (currently Seiko Instruments). The company started operation in a 230-square-metre (2,500 sq ft) renovated miso storehouse with 22 employees.

In 1943, Daini Seikosha established a factory in Suwa for manufacturing Seiko watches with Daiwa Kogyo. In 1959, the Suwa Factory of Daini Seikosha was split up and merged into Daiwa Kogyo to form Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd: the forerunner of the Seiko Epson Corporation. The company has developed many timepiece technologies. In particular, it developed the world’s first portable quartz timer (Seiko QC-951) in 1963, the world’s first quartz watch (Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ) in 1969, the first automatic power generating quartz watch (Seiko Auto-Quartz) in 1988 and the Spring Drive watch movement in 1999.

The watch business is the root of the company’s micromechatronics technologies and still one of the major businesses for Seiko Epson today although it accounts for less than one-tenth of total revenues.[5] The watches made by the company are sold through the Seiko Watch Corporation, a subsidiary of Seiko Holdings Corporation.


In 1961, Suwa Seikosha established a company called Shinshu Seiki Co. as a subsidiary to supply precision parts for Seiko watches. When the Seiko Group was selected to be the official time keeper for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, a printing timer was required to time events, and Shinshu Seiki started developing an electronic printer.[6]

In September 1968, Shinshu Seiki launched the world’s first mini-printer, the EP-101 (“EP” for Electronic Printer,) which was soon incorporated into many calculators. In June 1975, the name Epson was coined for the next generation of printers based on the EP-101 which was released to the public. (EPSON:E-P-SON: SON of Electronic Printer).[7] In April of the same year Epson America Inc. was established to sell printers for Shinshu Seiki Co.The Epson HX-20

In June 1978, the TX-80 (TP-80), eighty-column dot-matrix printer was released to the market, and was mainly used as a system printer for the Commodore PET Computer. After two years of further development, an improved model, the MX-80 (MP-80), was launched in October 1980.[6] It was soon described in the company’s advertising as the best selling printer in the United States.[8]

In July 1982, Shinshu Seiki officially named itself the Epson Corporation and launched the world’s first handheld computer, HX-20 (HC-20), and in May 1983 the world’s first portable color LCD TV was developed and launched by the company.[9]

In November 1985, Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd. and the Epson Corporation merged to form Seiko Epson Corporation.[10]

The company developed the Micro Piezo inkjet technology, which used a piezoelectric crystal in each nozzle and did not heat the ink at the print head while spraying the ink onto the page, and released Epson MJ-500 inkjet cartridge (Epson Stylus 800 printer) in March 1993. Shortly after in 1994, Epson released the first high resolution color inkjet printer (720×720 dpi was considered as a high resolution), the Epson Stylus Color (P860A) utilizing the Micro Piezo head technology. Newer models of the Stylus series employed Epson’s special DURABrite ink. They also had two hard drives. The HD 850 and the HD 860 MFM interface. The specifications are reference The WINN L. ROSCH Hardware bible 3rd addition SAMS publishing.[11]

In 1994 Epson started outsourcing sales reps to help sell their products in retail stores in the United States. The same year, they started the Epson Weekend Warrior sales program. The purpose of the program was to help improve sales, improve retail sales reps’ knowledge of Epson products and to address Epson customer service in a retail environment. Reps were assigned on weekend shift, typically around 12–20 hours a week. Epson started the Weekend Warrior program with TMG Marketing (now Mosaic Sales Solutions), later with Keystone Marketing Inc, then to Mosaic, and now with Campaigners INC. The Mosaic contract expired with Epson on June 24, 2007 and Epson is now represented by Campaigners, Inc. The sales reps of Campaigners, Inc. are not outsourced as Epson hired “rack jobbers” to ensure their retail customers displayed products properly. This frees up their regular sales force to concentrate on profitable sales solutions to VAR’s and system integrators, leaving “retail” to reps who did not require sales skills.

Personal computers[edit]

Starting in 1983, Epson entered the personal computer market with the QX-10, a CP/M-compatible Z80 machine. By 1986, the company had shifted to the growing PC compatible market with the Equity line. Epson withdrew from the PC market in 1996.

21st century[edit]

In June 2003, the company became public following their listing on the 1st section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. As of 2009, the Hattori family and its related individuals and companies are still major shareholders of Seiko Epson and have the power.[12] Even though Seiko Holdings and Seiko Epson have some common shareholders including the key members of the Hattori family, they are not affiliated. They are managed and operated completely independently. Epson has established its own brand image but rarely uses Seiko.

In 2004, Epson introduced their R-D1 digital RangeFinder Camera, which supports Leica M mount and Leica screw mount lenses with an adapter ring. This camera is the first digital rangefinder on the market. Because its sensor is smaller than that of the standard 35 mm film frame, lenses mounted on the R-D1 have the field view 1.53 times as long as that of the standard 35 mm camera. As of 2006 the R-D1 has been replaced by the R-D1s. The R-D1s is less expensive but its hardware is identical. Epson has released a firmware patch to bring the R-D1 up to the full functionality of its successor—the first digital camera manufacturer to make such an upgrade available for free.[citation needed]

In 2009, the company became full owner of Orient Watch, one of the largest timepiece manufacturers in Japan.[13]

In September 2012, Epson introduced a printer called the Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One. It has the ability to print wirelessly.[14] Furthermore, the name Expression has followed various models of scanners.

In September 2015 Epson debuted a printer, the Epson ET-4550 which instead of print cartridges, enables the user to pour the ink into separate inkwells from ink bottles.[15] In the third quarter of 2012, Epson’s global market share in the sale of printers, copiers and multifunction devices amounted to 15.20 percent.[16]

Epson is also involved in the smart glasses market. Since 2016 the company has three different models. First up was the Epson Moverio BT-100 which was followed up by the Epson Moverio BT-200. In 2016 the company also released the Moverio Pro BT-2000 which is an enterprise oriented, upgraded version of the BT-200 with stereoscopic cameras. The company also was the first to release consumer smart glasses with see through optics that made them very popular under drone pilots for being able to get a first person view while still being able to see the drone in the sky.

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Artificial Intelligence History

First International Meeting on Synthetic Biology – 2004 AD

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First International Meeting on Synthetic Biology

Adam Arkin (dates unavailable), Drew Endy (b. 1970), Tom Knight (b. 1948)

“Over the past half century, scientists have been using advanced computer technology to investigate and seek knowledge about the biological world at its most fundamental level. Many of the discoveries in biology have been made possible by information processing for analyzing the large amounts of data that can be generated by a biological study, computational science for modeling biological systems, and, increasingly, advanced laboratory robotics for carrying out the experiments themselves.

Perhaps because of their familiarity with computers, many biologists have come to think of cells not just as metabolic systems, but also as information-processing systems. This has led to a basic question at the foundation of the new field of synthetic biology: is it possible to apply what has been learned in the creation of computers to the design and programming of cells?

In the 1990s, MIT computer scientist Tom Knight set up a biology laboratory in the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science with the goal of doing just that. One of his first milestones: creating bioluminescent bacteria that could be programmed to blink. In 1999, synthetic biologists Drew Endy and Adam Arkin proposed in a white paper that there should be “a standard parts list for biological circuitry.” By 2003, these parts had become a reality, with the creation of Tom Knight’s “BioBrick” standard for combining synthetic biology parts.

MIT hosted the First International Meeting on Synthetic Biology in 2004. Over the next few years, the number of researchers in the field multiplied. A key milestone followed: oscillator circuits that could be built into cells, coupled with other circuits that could be used to count the number of oscillations and signal the results at distances up to several centimeters.”

SEE ALSO: DNA Data Storage (2012)

The vision for synthetic biology is to enable engineers to program cells the way they can program computers.

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Cameron, D. Ewen, Caleb J. Bashor, and James Collins. “A Brief History of Synthetic Biology.” Nature Reviews, Microbiology 12, no. 5 (May 2014): 381–90.

Knight, Helen. “Researchers Develop Basic Computing Elements for Bacteria.” MIT News release, July 9, 2015.

Sleator, Roy D. “The Synthetic Biology Future.” Bioengineered 5, no. 2 (March 2014): 69–72.


Roomba Home-Cleaning Vacuum Cleaner Robot – 2002 AD

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Home-Cleaning Robot

Colin Angle (dates unavailable), Helen Greiner (b. 1967), Rodney Brooks (b. 1954)

“In 2002, consumers were introduced to the Roomba — an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner that not only kept its owners’ domiciles clean but directly connected them to a high-tech industry that had previously been associated with science fiction and pop culture characters such as R2D2 and robot house cleaner Rosie Jetson.

The Roomba was created by a company called iRobot, founded in 1990 by MIT roboticists Colin Angle and Helen Greiner and their professor, Rodney Brooks. Until the Roomba, iRobot was largely focused on military and research robots such as Genghis, a robot for space exploration; Ariel, a robot for detecting and removing mines in beach surf zones; and PackBot, a robot that assisted in searches at the World Trade Center following the September 11 attacks and deployed with US troops to Afghanistan the following year.

The Roomba’s arrival is one of the earliest and perhaps best-known instances of commercialization of robotics research for the consumer market. Who would have predicted that the domestic minutiae of removing dirt would be a direct application for state-of-the-art robotics research in visual mapping, intelligent navigation, sensors, 3-D manipulation, and artificial intelligence? Not to mention a vehicle for one’s cat to joyride through the house.

Early versions of the Roomba cleaned floors by moving in a series of randomized patterns that were designed to cover most rooms, most of the time. Instead of mapping the room, Roomba’s sensors were designed to prevent the robot from falling down stairs and detect when it bumped into an object—so it could back up, turn, and keep going. In 2015, iRobot released a Wi-Fi-enabled Roomba incorporating machine vision and a robotic navigation algorithm that visually maps out a room and determines the Roomba’s place in it, for more efficient cleaning.

Roomba has taken the connection between high-tech research and the everyday person to another arena as well—allowing consumers to create their own robots. There is a version of Roomba designed intentionally for tinkering. Home hobbyists can add new hardware, software, and sensors for additional functionality and experimentation. Now anyone can have a robot deliver the morning paper and serve breakfast in bed.”

SEE ALSO Robby the Robot (1956), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)

Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner, keeps consumers’ homes clean without the tedium of manual vacuuming.

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History Software Engineering

Boston Dynamics Robotics Company Founded – 1992 AD

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Boston Dynamics Founded

Marc Raibert (b. 1949)

Boston Dynamics is a vanguard robotics company, maker of marvels such as Atlas, the autonomous 6-foot (1.8-meter) backflipping biped humanoid, and BigDog, a quadruped designed to function as a pack mule, capable of traversing landscapes too rough for any wheeled vehicle while carrying 340 pounds (154 kilograms) and moving at 4 miles (6 kilometers) an hour.

Founded by Marc Raibert, a former professor at both Carnegie Mellon and MIT, Boston Dynamics started as a spinoff from MIT. Much of Boston Dynamics’ early funding came from the US military, which wanted to find alternative solutions for missions that either were inherently dangerous for humans or required superhuman strength in an environment designed for bipedal navigation. The company also benefitted from decades of research into robotics and embodied intelligence at both academic and industrial research laboratories.

Notable robotic accomplishments include Cheetah, a running quadruped that broke the 2012 robot land-speed record by clocking in at 18 miles (29 kilometers) per hour. There is also Handle, a 6.5-foot (2-meter) robot with two legs on wheels that can jump 4 feet (1 meter) vertically, pick up and carry 100 pounds (45 kilograms), and maneuver with the balance and dexterity of both two-legged and four-legged creatures. PETMAN, the predecessor to Atlas, was designed to test the material effects of chemical weapons on protective safety suits. And then there is SandFlea, an 11-pound (5-kilogram), 6-inch (15-centimeter) -tall device on four wheels that can jump 30 feet (9 meters) in the air and land on a ledge. It can then jump back down, surviving falls from that proportionately great height.

In 2013, Google X (now part of Alphabet) purchased Boston Dynamics for an unknown sum. Four years later, in 2017, Alphabet sold the company to SoftBank, the mammoth Japanese technology company responsible for the creation of Pepper, a robot that can interpret and respond to a range of human emotions. Boston Dynamics has yet to commercialize its robots.

SEE ALSO Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)

Front view of the 6-foot (2-meter) biped humanoid robot Atlas, created by Boston Dynamics and DARPA.

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Artificial Intelligence History

Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet – 1956 AD

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Robby the Robot

Robby the Robot in a scene from Forbidden Planet

“Robby the Robot made his world debut as a fictional character in the movie Forbidden Planet, the same year that nonstick frying pans went on the market and the hovercraft was invented. In the 1950s, the impact and potential application of technology—both good and bad—was showing up in varying forms in popular culture, as well as diffusing into the home as commodities in different forms. Known for his clever personality and unique visual presence, Robby was symbolic of deeper themes and anxieties the public had toward advancing technology. Believable as a real character and as a robot, Robby quickly became a lasting symbol of the friendly, helpful promise of robots—even though Robby was actually a person walking around inside a 6-foot, 11-inch vacuum-form plastic tube.”

Robby the Robot in a poster for the original release of Forbidden Planet. (The lurid presentation does not accurately reflect the character in the film.)

“In the movie Forbidden Planet, Robby was the creation of Dr. Morbius, who built him using the blueprints of an alien race called the Krell that lived a millennium before. The Krell once lived on the planet Altair IV, now home to Dr. Morbius and his daughter, the only survivors from an expedition of scientists sent to the planet two decades earlier. Despite the threatening undertones of the marketing poster for Forbidden Planet, showing Robby carrying an injured woman, Dr. Morbius programmed Robby to obey Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which dictated that robots protect and obey human beings.”

Robby the Robot in a poster for the original release of The Invisible Boy.

“Following his motion picture debut, Robby appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including The Invisible Boy, Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, Mork & Mindy, and a 2006 AT&T commercial in which he appears alongside other well-known robots, including Rosie from The Jetsons and KITT from Knight Rider.”

“Robby was truly an advanced machine, with the ability to converse fluently in 187 languages and cook Dr. Morbius’s food by reproducing molecules in any shape and quantity. Robby—like R.U.R. in 1920 and Metropolis’s Maria in 1927, helped envision for computer scientists and the general public what a computer’s technical and practical potential could be and the role such machines could play in human society. Robby was as much an inspiration to computer scientists and budding inventors as he was an entertainer for the general public.”

SEE ALSO Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)

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History Software Engineering

Turing Test of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – 1951 AD

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The Turing Test

Alan Turing (1912–1954)

““Can machines think?” That’s the question Alan Turing asked in his 1951 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Turing envisioned a day when computers would have as much storage and complexity as a human brain. When computers had so much storage, he reasoned, it should be possible to program such a wide range of facts and responses that a machine might appear to be intelligent. How, then, Turing asked, could a person know if a machine was truly intelligent, or merely presenting as such?

Turing’s solution was to devise a test of machine intelligence. The mark of intelligence, Turing argued, was not the ability to multiply large numbers or play chess, but to engage in a natural conversation with another intelligent being.

In Turing’s test, a human, playing the role of an interrogator, is able to communicate (in what we would now call a chat room) with two other entities: another human and a computer. The interrogator’s job is to distinguish the human from the computer; the computer’s goal is to convince the interrogator that it is a person, and that the other person is merely a simulation of intelligence. If a computer could pass such a test, Turing wrote, then there would be as much reason to assume that it was conscious as there would be to assume that any human was conscious. According to Turing, the easiest way to create a computer that could pass his test would be to build one that could learn and then teach it from “birth” as if it were a child.

In the years that followed, programs called chatbots, capable of conducting conversations, appeared to pass the test by fooling unsuspecting humans into thinking they were intelligent. The first of these, ELIZA, was invented in 1966 by MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum (1923–2008). In one case, ELIZA was left running on a teletype, and a visitor to Weizenbaum’s office thought he was text-chatting with Weizenbaum at his home office, rather than with an artificial intelligence (AI) program. According to experts, however, ELIZA didn’t pass the Turing test because the visitor wasn’t told in advance that the “person” at the other end of the teleprinter might be a computer.

SEE ALSO ELIZA (1965), Computer Is World Chess Champion (1997), Computer Beats Master at Game of Go (2016)

“In the movie Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford, the fictional Voight-Kampff test can distinguish a human from a “replicant” by measuring eye dilation during a stressful conversation.”

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Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics – 1942 A.D.

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Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics

Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)

“Science-fiction author Isaac Asimov introduced the Three Laws of Robotics in his 1942 story “Runaround” as a set of guiding principles to govern the behavior of robots and their future development. First, a robot may not cause harm to a human, either by the robot’s action or inaction. Second, the robots must follow human commands, unless they would violate the first law. The third law states that robots must look to their own survival, provided that doing so does not interfere with their obligations under the first and second laws.

Asimov added a fourth law, known as the “zeroth” law, in 1985. It ranks higher than the first three and affords similar protections to all of humanity.

Asimov originally attributes the laws to the Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D. The laws are a fail-safe feature used to inform robot behavior as robots interact with humans and choose courses of action that involve morality, ethics, and thoughtful decision making. They are used throughout the Robot series and other narratives linked to it. For example, Dr. Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist, is a recurring fictional character in Asimov’s robot stories. Calvin is employed by 21st-century robot manufacturer US Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc., where she solves problems caused by robots’ interaction with humans. These problems are often associated with a term in Asimov’s stories called the “Frankenstein Complex,” understood as human fear of self-aware, autonomous machines.

Asimov recognized in his writing that anxiety about intelligent robots would be a significant challenge to overcome in order for robots to be accepted by human society. His laws tapped into a subject that has moved from fiction to public policy as society confronts the commercialization of machines (such as autonomous vehicles) whose function is directly associated with human life.”

SEE ALSO Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920)

Cover of Signet’s 1956 edition of I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

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Metropolis by Fritz Lang – 1927 A.D.

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Fritz Lang (1890–1976)

“In 1927, German film director Fritz Lang was already visualizing what life in the year 2026 would look like. Technology featured prominently in the cityscape of his black-and-white silent film Metropolis—considered by many to be one of the most influential sci-fi movies of all time. His dystopian vision depicted oppressed workers below ground toiling at mindless, repetitive tasks on machines that ran the city. Above ground was a paradise where the city’s elite lived out indulgent lives. Interpretations of Lang’s technology-driven world can be seen in movies such as Blade Runner.

The plot of Metropolis involves a female robot built to resemble the deceased wife of the city’s leader. Later, the mad scientist who created her transforms the heroine of the story—a nanny named Maria—into the female robot. To complete this transformation, the scientist uses vast amounts of electric energy and futuristic technology.

While the robot embodies humanity’s continued fascination with how advancing technology may impact and integrate into people’s lives, the fact that the robot is female is rare. Most robots featured in fiction and pop culture of that era were male or genderless. This robot—portrayed as the leader’s wife and then Maria—is depicted as a strong, clearly feminine being. The cultural impact of that role has since been seen in numerous female characters and imagery, such as Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams” interlude during a world tour, featuring a video of the singer in a robot costume that borrows strongly from “Maria.”

In 2006, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) inducted Maria into its Robot Hall of Fame. On the Hall of the Fame’s website, CMU recognizes the robot Maria as the “singular most powerful image of early science fiction films and continuing inspiration in the creation of female robotic imagery in both science and science fiction.””

SEE ALSO Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920)

A poster for a 1984 rerelease of Metropolis, the 1927 film by German film director Fritz Lang.

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Rossum’s Universal Robots – 1920 A.D.

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Rossum’s Universal Robots

Karel Čapek (1890–1938)

“The word robot was coined in 1920 by the Czech dramatist Karel Čapek in his science-fiction hit, R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). He coined the word based on the Czech word robota (“forced labor”); the word is now widely used for mechanized beings in most languages. In the play, the fictional Rossum corporation has developed cheap, biological humanoid machines called robots and has been shipping them all over the world from its secretive island-based factory. While some nations initially use the robots as soldiers, eventually the world more or less accepts the robots and puts them to work.

R. U. R. included many literary tropes that would become commonplace in future robot literature: an underground organization that seeks to liberate the robots; intelligent robots that are assembled from parts, with short lifespans, no pain, and no emotions; and a likable scientist with questionable ethics. Expensive at first, R. U. R.’s robots drop in price from $10,000 to $150—from around $130,000 down to $2,000 in today’s money. In Čapek’s world, war is a memory, human birthrates are down, and the future seems both predictable and pleasurable. The play’s first act is largely devoted to telling the story of these fantastical creations and posing a philosophical question: if humans need not work, then what purpose do they serve after all?

And then the robots decide to kill every last human on the planet.

Although largely forgotten now, R. U. R. was well received and popular. The play was produced in Prague, London, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. When Isaac Asimov penned his Three Laws of Robotics, he did so largely to prevent the future that Čapek had envisioned. Although Čapek got the technology wrong—he envisioned that robots would be biological, not based on mechanisms and computation—his compelling vision of a world in which humanity is simultaneously helped, transformed, and eventually smothered by its mechanical creations still haunts us to this day.”

SEE ALSO Metropolis (1927), Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Star Trek Premieres (1966), Boston Dynamics Founded (1992)

A poster for the Federal Theatre Project presentation of R. U. R. at the Marionette Theatre, 1936–1939.

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Programmable Robot – circa 60 A.D.

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c. 60

Programmable Robot

Heron of Alexandria (c. 10 AD–85 AD), Noel Sharkey (b. 1948)

“Heron was an engineer in ancient Alexandria who was well known for designing and possibly building devices that were once considered too advanced for that time. But in recent years, modern enthusiasts have recreated many of Heron’s inventions, using technology that was available in Heron’s era, to demonstrate that it would have been possible for the works of this extraordinarily talented individual actually to have been built.

In 2007, computer scientist Noel Sharkey at the University of Sheffield, England, made an astonishing announcement: nearly two millennia ago, Heron had constructed a theatrical robot that could be programmed to follow a set of instructions, including moving forward or backward, turning right or turning left, and pausing. In his 2008 article “Electro-Mechanical Robots before the Computer,” Sharkey went on to assert that automatons—robots, if the word is broadly defined—were invented independently in ancient Greece and China “around 400 BC.” However, those automatons had predefined behavior.

Heron’s theoretical robot was a three-wheeled contraption, designed to fit inside a large doll or figure that would be put on a stage, and was programmed by wrapping a long string around the cart’s drive axle. The long string was attached to a set of pulleys and a weight, such that as the weight dropped, the cord would be pulled, providing power to the wheels. Pegs placed strategically in the axle allowed the cord to reverse direction, which resulted in the right or left wheel reversing direction.

Sharkey demonstrated that Heron could have created such an automaton by creating one of his own, albeit with modern implements: three wheels from one of his child’s toys, some aluminum framing, and string. But Sharkey’s construction was a demonstration that, yes, it is in fact possible to program and power such a contraption using only string, weights, and pulleys, and it is known that the ancient Greeks and Romans had all three. According to Sharkey, Heron’s was the first programmable robot, due to the ability to change the robot’s behavior by changing the winding of the string.”

SEE ALSO Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920), Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)

Engraving showing a statue thought to depict the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer Heron of Alexandria.

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