A monk trundles out, silently mutters, and pounds his chest. A robotic duck defecates. The Terminator looms. Some robots can perform surgery or act as news anchors. And a variety of these machines are on display at the Science Museum in London’s current exhibition, Robots.
The museum offers a bizarre array of biblical, zoomorphic, and A.I.-driven robots created in the last 500 years. But what’s even more striking is that this is “the greatest collection of humanoid robots anyone has ever put together,” curators told The Guardian.
What started as a way to manifest faith-based magical realism via mechanics in the 16th-century — via automata of monks and Christ — turned into a critique of global industrialization, such as occurred with the human-replacement robot Maria in the classic sci-fi film Metropolis from 1927. Today, there are even robots used in therapy-play sessions with autistic children.
It’s no wonder the question of a robot take-over continues to haunt this century and lies at the crux of the exhibit.
“What we really want visitors to do is to stand in front of these robots, watch them in action and ask themselves, ‘are robots going to march into our world and demand jobs from us? Or are human beings — capitalists — going to award jobs to them because it’s the cheaper and easier thing to do,'” Ling Lee, the exhibitions content developer at the Science Museum in London, told The Guardian in a video interview.
The exhibit starts with “a wall of artificial skulls with robotic eyes, an interactive artwork named Area V5 after the part of the human brain which perceives motion by its developer, Louis-Philippe Demers of Nanyang Technical University, Singapore,” stated Roger Highfield, director of external affairs at the Science Museum Group, on the museum’s blog.
“In the exhibition [visitors] are first confronted with an animatronic baby, under whose latex skin three dozen metal joints whir. Ben Russell, lead curator, said: ‘Coming face to face with a mechanical human has always been a disconcerting experience. That sense of unease, of something you cannot quite put your finger on, goes to the heart of our long relationship with robots,’” Highfield stated.
Robots runs from February 8 until September 3 at the Science Museum in London.
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