Ninth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems (ALIFE9)

Boston, Massachusetts

September 12-15th 2004

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Artwork by Dr. Cliff Pickover used by permission





Alife 9 Tutorial

Robot ? a Word and a Machine in the World

Jana Horáková Dept. of Theatre and Interactive Media Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
Jozef Kelemen nstitute of Computer Science, Silesian University, Opava, Czech Republic

Robots are in our society today much more than subjects of scientific, technical, and economical interests. Robots considerably changed our world, our thinking, and are changing our culture and us as the humankind. In the proposed tutorial lecture we will sketch the beginnings and the early history of this phenomenon for those interested mainly in the science and engineering of robots esp. in the context of AI and AL.

In the Slovak spa Trencianske Teplice a new word robot has been born thanks to brothers Karel and Josef Capek during their summer vacation in 1920 ? instead of the originally proposed by Karel and rejected by Josef word labor ? for naming the 20th Century variation of an eternal dream appearing e.g. in the Genesis (in the Old Testament), in Homer’s and Aristotle’s works, in legends on the Golem (the most popular is perhaps that connected with Prague), and then in numerous literal and dramatic works as well as in lot of movies. This dream on creating human beings in an artificial way excites many thinkers and mechanics and oriented their activities toward understanding the difference between human beings and other kind of systems (Descartes, la Mettrie, Pascal) and constructing human-like and alive machines constructed e.g. Jaquet-Droz, Kempelen (he constructed his problematic chess playing Turk in Bratislava, the today’s capital of Slovakia), and Vaucason.

After sketching the prehistory of the above mentioned dream (with some curiosities usually not mentioned in the literature or maybe generally unknown) which leads in the 20th Century to robots and advanced robotics, and to research in the fields of Artificial Life and Artificial Intelligence, we will concentrate in the lecture to the 20th Century origin, development, and influence of the idea of robots from several aspects (again with some generally not familiar curiosities):

1)      We will recapitulate in short the social and political situation in the first third of the 20th Century in Europe and in the USA in order to determine the two important views of robots: the social view and the technical one. Karel Capek’s original understanding of robots in his play RUR (1921) as in fact worker-like beings (fabricated from a specific organic gel in specialized factories) for doing hard, monotone, and stereotypic work. The understanding of robots originated in USA (hand in hand with the first night of the play in 1922) is significantly different. The basic difference is evident form realizing the difference in costumes of robots form the first night in Prague (1921) and in NYC (1922). While in Prague robots are dressed uniformly but as human beings, the first run in New York uses costumes for robots looking like humanoid mechanical machines.

2)      We will sketch the cultural background (not reduced to the RUR, but including also several modernistic developmental lines of the European art at the end of the 19th and the fist third of the 20th centuries), and the influence of the concept of robots into the broadly understood art, mainly into the literature (sci-fi), theatre, and film production.

3)      We will sketch the development of the scientific concept of machines during the 20th Century starting with A. M. Turing (and some other logicians of the first half of the century) effort to formalize the concept of ?mechanizing“ computation, then with J. von Neumann ideas concerning computers and the phenomenon of self-reproduction. From this moment we will follow two routes of further development ? the route of AI and the rout of AL ? started by the mentioned two pioneers. We will mention the (may be) surprising fact that much more than AI, the AL movement may identify its roots in the original Capek-type robots. The AI roots leads to the understanding of robots in the USA at the beginning of the 20ties of 20th Century.

4)      Sketching the very brief history of the development of AI and AL from the perspective of development of humanoid robots we will end with mentioning the overall influence of the interests in robots, AL, AI (and some other relevant disciplines) into the general, philosophical understanding of the historic-cultural substance, the role and the future of the humankind, and we will mention in this context esp. the different just appearing ideas of the so called post-humanism.

The tutorial lecture is intended for those interested in broader than purely scientific and/or technical context, aspects, and history of robotics, AI, and AL. The expected number of participants is approx. 50. The written version of the tutorial will be prepared and it will be possible to distribute copies of it to registered participants.

About the authors:

Jana Horáková (1971) studied classical ballet at the Brno Conservatory. After graduation, she entered the ballet ensemble of the Czech National Theatre at Prague. Then she finished her master study of theatrology “prima cum laude” at the Faculty of Arts at the Charles University in Prague and at the Masaryk University in Brno (2001). In the present she is finishing her Ph. D. studies (focused to the cultural metamorphoses of the human beings and the machines in the 20th century from Capek’s robots to cyborgs) at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University (Brno), Czech Republic. She gives regular lectures on new media and performance art at the Department of Theatre and Interactive media studies at the same University.

Jozef Kelemen (1951) received his degrees in mathematics (Comenius University, Bratislava), theoretical cybernetics (Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow) and computing technology (Slovak University of Technology, Bratislava). He was associated in the position of (assistant, associate, and full) professor at the Comenius University and University of Economics, Bratislava, Slovakia, L. Eotvos University at Budapest, and I. Szechenyi University of Technology at Gyor, Hungary. Now, he is the full professor of computer science and the head of the Institute of Computer Science at the Silesian University at Opava, Czech Republic. Professionally, he is oriented to problems on the interplays between artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and artificial life. He is the author of tens of scientific papers, more than ten books on these topics and some collections of essays reflecting the broader cultural interplays between the above mentioned fields of scientific and engineering interests and the general cultural development and future.