The first robot to walk the earth was a bronze giant called Talos. This wondrous machine was created not by the MIT Robotics Lab,...

The first robot to walk the earth was a bronze giant called Talos. This wondrous machine was created not by the MIT Robotics Lab, but by Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention. More than 2,500 years ago, long before medieval automata, and centuries before technology made self-moving devices possible, Greek mythology was exploring ideas about creating artificial life―and grappling with still-unresolved ethical concerns about biotechne, “life through craft.” Mythic automata appear in tales about Jason and the Argonauts, Medea, Daedalus, Prometheus, and Pandora, and many of these machines are described as being built with the same materials and methods that human artisans used to make tools and statues. And, indeed, many sophisticated animated devices were actually built in antiquity, reaching a climax with the creation of a host of automata in the ancient city of learning, Alexandria, the original Silicon Valley.

In Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology, Dr. Adrienne Mayor tells the fascinating story of the earliest expressions of the timeless impulse to create artificial life and reveals how some of today’s most advanced innovations in robotics and AI were foreshadowed in ancient myth.

Adrienne Mayor is a Research Scholar in Classics and History and Philosophy of Science and Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She is a folklorist and historian of ancient science who investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific myths and oral traditions. Her research looks at ancient “folk science” precursors, alternatives, and parallels to modern scientific methods. Her work has been featured on NPR, the BBC, the History Channel, the New York Times, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.


Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.

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