Ancient dreams of intelligent machines: 3,000 years of robots
The French philosopher René Descartes was reputedly fond of automata: they inspired his view that living things were biological machines that function like clockwork. Less known is a strange story that began to circulate after the philosopher’s death in 1650. This centred on Descartes’s daughter Francine, who died of scarlet fever at the age of five.
According to the tale, a distraught Descartes had a clockwork Francine made: a walking, talking simulacrum. When Queen Christina invited the philosopher to Sweden in 1649, he sailed with the automaton concealed in a casket. Suspicious sailors forced the trunk open; when the mechanical child sat up to greet them, the horrified crew threw it overboard.
The story is probably apocryphal. But it sums up the hopes and fears that have been associated with human-like machines for nearly three millennia. Those who build such devices do so in the hope that they will overcome natural limits – in Descartes’s case, death itself. But this very unnaturalness terrifies and repulses others. In our era of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), those polarized responses persist, with pundits and the public applauding or warning against each advance. Digging into the deep history of intelligent machines, both real and imagined, we see how these attitudes evolved: from fantasies of trusty mechanical helpers to fears that runaway advances in technology might lead to creatures that supersede humanity itself.
(Disponível em: <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05773-y)