who would want to read
Isaac Asimov helped
robots to become a bit
more tolerated with his
Three Laws of Robotics,
but even his later stories
such as Runaround or
the 2004 Will Smith film,
iRobot managed to blur
those laws. It is
interesting to note,
however, that Asimov
predicted 50 years ago
(1964) that … "Robots will neither be
common nor very good in 2014, but
they will be in existence." This is an
interesting prediction for the master
of robot fiction.
Evil Robot Music
The early 1930s was a period
when movies were slowly making the
transition from silent films to talkies.
Music scores were not part of these
early films, and live musicians were
still being used, keyed to each
particular scene. The studios soon
realized that it was far cheaper to
use recorded music for their
productions, or 'robot music' as the
musicians called it.
According to the Smithsonian
Magazine, "The American Federation
of Musicians came together to form
the Music Defense League.” The new
organization's goal was to defend
the careers of musicians who would
be displaced by the 'robot music'
being played to accompany movies.
The organization spent $500,000 —
a large amount at that time — on an
ad campaign imploring the American
public to refuse the robot music and
insist on real live humans on stages
and in movie theaters.
People were still wary of
anything of a technical nature as the
cartoon in Figure 3 illustrates.
Figure 4 is of a postcard showing a
representation of a robot orchestra
that replaces human musicians. At
least these robots were not just
recordings timed with the actions
of the play's stage actors.
Robots Take On
a Nicer Role
By the 1950s, robots were
becoming a bit more accepted, and
envisioned by some as an integral
part of a home's Christmas
activities as the issue of Popular
Electronics in Figure 5 shows. It
was later movies like 1972's Silent
Running with the robot 'drones'
named Huey, Dewey, and little
Louie who was later lost, and Star
Wars with C3PO and R2D2 that
truly allowed humans to appreciate
them as mechanical servants.
No longer were robots just
malevolent creations of some evil
mad scientist. They helped people to
the best of their abilities, even
though they looked like roving trash
cans or gold-colored British butlers.
I mentioned the drones in Silent
Running as they were very helpful
and friendly assistants to the human
star, Bruce Dern. In the days long
before CGI and even action robot
props, the true stars of this film were
the folks inside the three robots.
They waddled around while being
crammed inside the small fiberglass
Many people have said that
these ‘robots’ were probably the
closest that any movie has ever come
in the depiction of a faithful robotic
companion for a human.
We are now well into the third
millennium, and robots are finally
being accepted by us humans. These
mechanical beings are becoming part
of our daily lives. Japan, Korea, and
many other countries around the
world have taken creations from
children's stories and movies and
have brought them to life in the form
of humanoid robots that are shaped
similar to and act much like we do.
SERVO 03.2014 75
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Advances in robots and robotics over the years.
Figure 5. Home robots as envisioned in
1958 by Popular Electronics.
Figure 3. Political cartoon depicting
'robot' music. Figure 4. Postcard of robot musicians at a play.