Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Honda creates Homeric Hephaestus Robot

One of my favourite genres of fiction is the kind of dystopian projections of future human development exemplified by such works as Orwell's 1984 and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.  In a future post I may discuss my pet theory that much of Greek drama, especially Aristophanes' comedies, involves a version of this kind of admonitory fiction, presenting a slippery-slope image of what might happen to Athens if a certain path is either chosen or persisted in.

For now, I will contain myself to some of what I judge to be the futuristic notions in Homer (don't worry, I will mention someone else someday soon), namely that of technological advance.  It seems to me that the descriptions of Hephaestus' automatons are not magic, or described as being supernatural in and of themselves, but rather resulting from a supernatural skill.  That is to say, it would theoretically be possible for human craftsmen (and the renowned Daedalus is such an established figure by this time that his name is often used adjectivally to mean "ingeniously-crafted") to construct such machines, and Homer's description of the wondrous assistants is an imagining of the horizon of what human engineering could achieve.

And, as it turns out, Homer was proven right this week. Take a look at this video of what The Telegraph referred to as an "Artificial intelligence robot which can help round the home", compare it to the passage in the Iliad, and consider whether Homer’s faith in the potential of metallurgy was ill-placed.

             "ὑπὸ δ' ἀμφίπολοι ῥώοντο ἄνακτι
χρύσειαι ζωῇσι νεήνισιν εἰοικυῖαι.
τῇς ἐν μὲν νόος ἐστὶ μετὰ φρεσίν, ἐν δὲ καὶ αὐδὴ
καὶ σθένος, ἀθανάτων δὲ θεῶν ἄπο ἔργα ἴσασιν.
αἳ μὲν ὕπαιθα ἄνακτος ἐποίπνυον·"

             "and the maids rushed to help their master,
Made of gold, looking like living maidens.
They have intelligence in their mind, as well as speech
And strength, and learned their tasks from the immortal gods.
They bustled about in support of their master."

Actually, Honda haven't quite yet matched Hephaestus' feat, given that Asimo doesn't seem to have any speech capabilities.  Still, if 'I, Robot' is anything to go by, won't be long now.  And it surely won't be too long after that before someone has one made of gold...  Bloody bankers.

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