Robots and Art

Part of the series Cognitive Science and Technology pp 29-45


We Have Always Been Robots: The History of Robots and Art

  • Elizabeth StephensAffiliated withSouthern Cross University Email author 
  • , Tara HeffernanAffiliated withSouthern Cross University

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Although the “robot” is a twentieth century concept, machines that conform to the same definition—are capable of carrying out complex actions automatically—are part of a much longer history. This chapter will provide an overview of this history. It will trace the contemporary emergence of the robot back to the appearance of clockwork and mechanical automata in the early modern period. In so doing, the chapter will make two key contributions to this book’s study of robots and art. Firstly, it will argue that the concept of a robot predates the emergence of the word robot by several centuries, and that our understanding of the contemporary concept is enriched by recognition of this longer history. Secondly, it will show that, from its very inception, the history of robots has been closely entwined with that of art—evident not least in the fact the term itself derives from the context of theatre. This history continues to be reflexively present in contemporary performance.