A Brief History of Robotics

A Brief History of Robotics

For everybody at Rewired, as well as for our backer Tej Kohli, robotics and AI are not only the next major technological leap forward, they also have the potential to dramatically transform our world for the better. With such a bright future ahead for the world of robotics, it’s worth looking back over its extraordinary history.

The Earliest Robots – From Myth to Reality

While robots as we would recognise them today are a relatively recent phenomenon, similar concepts have existed, often in the form of myth, for millennia. Among the earliest mythic ancestors of robots are the animated clay golems of Jewish folklore, and the human-like creations mentioned in Chinese legends.

Many ancient thinkers hypothesised about robotic-style creations, but it wasn’t until the middle ages that such inventions actually began to emerge. These included the Cosmic Engine, an intricate clock tower from 11th century China, and the water-powered devices of Al-Jazari.

Slowly, more complex automata began to emerge, capable of ever more complex tasks, including drawing and playing music. They became common and popular attractions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, during which time their movements became capable of being controlled by early remote-control technology.

The Birth of Modern Robotics

As new advances in technology began to bring the concept of robots closer to an achievable reality, a new field of theoretical and technological research emerged – robotics. In an example of life reflecting art, the term was coined by the science-fiction novelist Isaac Asimov, although the term robot had been introduced in 1921 by the Czech writer Karel Čapek.

Around the same time, the influential computer scientist Alan Turing first posited the idea of a test that would judge whether a human was capable of distinguishing between communication with another human, and with a machine. In theorising about this test, Turing shaped the way many subsequent figures in the field have thought about robotics and AI technology.

The Modern Robot Arrives

Robots as we think of them today emerged in the mid to late 20th century, beginning with William Walter Grey’s tortoise-like robots Elmer and Elsie, which were capable of autonomously guiding themselves back to a charging station.

Following that, similar projects refined the technique, while robotic tools for industrial use also began to emerge. In 1972, the Stanford Robotics Institute finished work on Shakey – the first robot to combine hardware and software in order to perceive its own surroundings. Another breakthrough came in 1997, when IBM’s Deep Blue beat chessmaster Garry Kasparov at a chess match – the first machine to ever do so.

Where Next for Robots?

Over the last few years, robotics technology has continued to make extraordinary leaps forward. Among the most recent breakthroughs in robotics technology have been soft, self-healing robots, as well as robotic devices capable of carrying out intricate surgical procedures.

Now, as the technology itself proves itself capable, and with the support of robotic enthusiasts like Tej Kohli, Rewired are at the very forefront of the next stage of robotics. The history of robotics may be longer and more complex than many realise – but its future is right around the corner.



Posted on: December 1, 2018

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