THE REAL HISTORY OF ARTIFICIAL BEINGS
William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain at Bell Labs). These new devices immediately enabled the construction of improved computers, which were soon employed to control so-called industrial robots. George Devol, an engineer, patented the first such device in 1954, and with his partner Joseph Engelberger founded a company to make and sell the UNIMATE—a programmable,one-armed manipu- lator for use in assembly lines and industrial processes. Engelberger saw such robots as “help[ing] the factory operator in a way that can be compared to business machines as an aid to the office worker.”
General Motors bought its first UNIMATE in 1961, but despite Engelberger’s optimism, these robots did not become widespread in the U.S. automobile industry until their economic advantages became apparent—especially in competition with Japanese industry, which began enthusiastically adopting industrial robots in the late 1960s. In 1978, GM finally installed a highly automated assembly system that used a programmable arm called PUMA (Programmable Universal Machine for Assembly), and now this type of robot is integral to automobile manufacture and other industries.
Industrial robots are not mobile autonomous mechanisms; they do not move from their bases, and they only follow a preprogrammed series of steps.They are closer to computer-controlled machine tools than to self-determining beings. Nevertheless, they have taught us a great deal about how to make artificial bodies move and how to use computers to control physical actions. The next step was to make smarter artificial minds.
That step was assisted by the advance that came after the inven- tion of solid-state transistors, the invention of integrated circuits in 1958, which put many transistors and other circuit elements on a single tiny piece of silicon. Integrated circuits steadily grew in capac- ity and shrank in size, going through successive waves—LSI (large- scale integration), VLSI (very large-scale integration), and ULSI (ultralarge-scale integration)—until today a single Pentium-type com- puter chip contains millions of transistors and other circuit compo- nents. These changes reduced the size of computers and powerfully enhanced their speed and storage capacity.