TheVirtual History of Artificial Beings
T he intensity of our interest in artificial beings is due to the compelling meanings we attach to them.Technology has yet to give us perfect replacement body parts or full-fledged an- droids, but millennia ago, the cultural repositories of our dreams and self-images—legend, myth, and eventually written literature—pre- sented a rich account, a virtual history, of imaginary artificial beings. Later, the tales were told in new formats, like film and television. In all ages and media, the stories we built around these would-be creatures express our desires and fears, define the expectations we place on these beings, and create the vocabulary we use to describe them.
In a way, these fantasy versions are now building themselves into reality because many of today’s creators of artificial beings owe their passion to childhood encounters with robots and androids in science fiction and fantasy.The connection flows the other way too, because science influences works of the imagination.Eighteenth-century stud- ies of electricity played into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; today’s tech- nology inspires the artificial beings depicted in the entertainment media, from the robot R2D2 in StarWars to the child android in A. I.: Artificial Intelligence.
The most powerfully symbolic of these virtual life forms is the