As long as there has been man and work, there has been a man trying to make a tool to do the work for him. I’m not saying that people are lazy; I’m saying that I and about seventeen and a half million people would rather be watching a kitten play with a stick. People didn’t always have this much free time, though. It wasn’t until industrialization that we really started using machines to do hard work for us, right? Our forefathers didn’t have the tools available to create modern, complex machines — robots, specifically — like we do today.
Except for the guy in the Middle East who built a robotic music band that ran on water in the 13th century. Apparently, robots have been around for a very long time.
You might not have heard of al-Jazari and his work, mostly because a couple hundred years later Leonardo da Vinci came in and stole the genius spotlight. Before then, though, al-Jazari was the epitome of scientific genius. The Middle East was the center of trading during his time, and not only were goods traded but information and culture. This suited al-Jazari just fine because with it placed the entire collection of the world’s scientific knowledge at his fingertips. He developed designs for water clocks, piston pipes using suction and programmable robots. That’s right — he could change the tasks his robots performed, which he used to make an automated musical theater.
Da Vinci making working humanoid robots shouldn’t even come as a surprise. When asked the question, “What did da Vinci accomplish in his lifetime?” the correct answer is “Everything.” Leonardo’s Lost Robots sums up all you need to know — da Vinci drew blueprints for working automated bell ringers, knights and lions. When you’ve discovered or invented every modern aspect of the world around you, the last thing to do is take it over with your robot army. The only thing protecting the world is that the complete blueprints are part of the other 14,000 missing pages of da Vinci’s work.
An article about robots isn’t complete without mention of Japan, the country that invented an entire genre around giant fighting robots. The first manga, Astro Boy, was a mecha story about a small robot fighting an evil government. Many mecha animes like Gigantor and Voltron: Defender of the Universe arrived early in America and broke the wall between American and Japanese culture. Heck, Japan loves robots so much it stopped drawing them and built a four-and-a-half ton mech that could be controlled by an iPhone, which is about the least creepiest robot Japan has built. Before the mech, Japanese engineers built a robotic fashion model. Japan’s love affair with automations goes back a little further to the 19th century. Tanaka Hisashige built little dolls called Karakuri Ningyo. His most famous is the Yumi-iri Doji — the arrow-shooting boy. This doll pulled an arrow from a quiver, loaded it onto a bow, and shot a bulls-eye.
We shouldn’t be afraid that someday we’ll make robots that will take over humanity. Look how long we’ve been trying.