While early AI researchers were programming machines to think intelligently in these areas—or at least, trying to—the science of arti- ficial beings was developing in ways that became increasingly en- twined with AI and computers. The first more-or-less humanoid creations appeared in the 1920s and 1930s (by then, following Carel Capek’s R.U.R,such creations were called “robots.”).One early model was displayed in London in 1928. It did not walk but could move its arms, hands, and head, rise from a seat and take a bow, and speak by way of a voice box, although what it said is no longer known. It was animated by an electric motor driving an array of cables and pulleys that the early Greeks would have recognized, with electromagnets providing additional flexibility.
A decade later, a more sophisticated example of a robot was ex- tremely popular at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a showplace for the technology that would supposedly improve the world. Elektro the robot was constructed by the Westinghouse corporation.This 8-foot- tall metal construction could move forward and backward, count to 10, and say 77 words.Although Elektro was a large, threatening-look- ing clanker,Westinghouse went out of its way to humanize the robot. It could dance, and smoke a cigarette, which at the time also seemed endearingly human.A contemporary photograph shows a woman of- fering Elektro’s robot dog Sparko a tidbit as the creature sits up and begs. The woman is tiny compared to Elektro, but the robot stands benevolently by and the whole scene radiates friendly technology.
More than 60 years after that World’s Fair, Elektro’s engineering details are difficult to come by, but most likely it carried out fixed routines controlled by the relays and vacuum tubes then being intro- duced into computers.This was the technology Isaac Asimov alluded to in I,Robot as inadequate for versatile behavior without a“positronic brain”; relays and tubes alone were not enough to support complex robotic thoughts and actions.
But as computers and AI developed, the “positronic brain” came closer to realization. First, electronic brains had to become smaller and less power-hungry if they were to be installed in robots. The march toward solid-state electronics took care of much of that. Bulky vacuum tubes gave way to tiny transistors (invented in 1947 by