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

Part of the Cognitive Science and Technology book series (CSAT)


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.


Radar Respiration Explosive Assured Petrol 


  1. 1.
    Bar-Cohen Y, Marom A, Hanson D (2009) The coming robot revolution: expectations and fears about emerging intelligent, humanlike machines. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bentley P, Come D (2002) Creative evolutionary systems. Morgan Kauffmann, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Carlyle T (1829) A mechanical age. In: Edinburg review. Avaliable via History 104 Europe. http://www.indiana.edu/~hist104/sources/Carlyle.html. Accessed 16 December 2014
  4. 4.
    Carver G, Beardon C (2005) New visions in performance. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ficher-Rathus L (2010) Foundations of art and design: enhanced media addition. Cengage Learning, BostonGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Goodall J (2005) The will to evolve. In: Smith M (ed) (2007) Stelarc, the monograph. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 1–32Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Hoffman K (2006) Sleeping beauties in the fairground: the Sptizner, Pedley and Chemisé exhibits. Early Popular Visual Culture 4(2):139–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Humble P (2002) Anti-art and the concept of art. In: Smith P, Wilde C (eds) A companion to art theory. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 244–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kac E (1997) Origin and development of robotic art. Art J 56(3):60–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kac E (2005) Telepresence and bio art: networking humans, rabbits and robots. University of Michigan Press, MichiganGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kittler F (1999) Gramophone, film, typewriter. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kleiner F (2012) Gardeners art through the ages: a global history. Wadsworth, BostonGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Lizchaka C, Sick A (2007) Machines as agency: artistic perspectives. Transcript Verlag, ColumbiaGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Marx K, Engels F (2008) The communist manifesto. Pluto, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Miller A (2014) Colliding worlds: how cutting edge science is redefining contemporary art. W.W. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Peri J (2009) New art city: manhattan at mid-century. Vintage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Reichardt J (1972) Art at large. New scientist magazine 54(794):292Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Riedler J (2009) Karel capek. In: Bould M, Butler A, Roberts A, Vint S (eds) Fifty key figures in science fiction. Routledge, London, pp 47–51Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Riskin J (2003) The defecating duck: or, the ambiguous origins of artificial life. Crit Inquiry 29(4):599–633CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Salter C (2010) Entangled: technology and the transformation of performance. University of Massachusetts Press, AmherstCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Satz A, Woods J (2009) Articulate objects: voice, sculpture and performance. Peter Lang, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Schaffer S (1994) Babbage’s Intelligence: calculating engines and the factory system. Crit Inquiry 21(1):203–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Sillars L (ed) (2009) Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely. Tate Publishing, UKGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Sommerer C, Mignonneau L (eds) (2008) The art and science of interface and interaction design, vol 1. Springer Science and Business Media, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Song D, Goldberg K, Chong Y (2008) Networked telerobots. In: Siciliano B, Khatib O (eds) Springer handbook of robotics. Springer Science and Business Media, Berlin, pp 759–769CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Stelarc (2009) Mécaniques du corps. In: Hall G, Stelarc, Roland D, Zylinska J (eds) Enghien-les-Bains, Centre des ArtsGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Stephens E (2015) ‘Dead eyes open’: the role of experiments in galvanic reanimation in nineteenth-century popular culture. Leonardo 48(2) http://www.leonardo.info/leoinfo.html. Accessed 16 March 2015
  28. 28.
    Warkentin J (2010) Creating memory: a guide to outdoor public sculpture in toronto. Becker Associates, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Wiener N (1965) Cybernetics or control and communication in the animal and the machine. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Wood G (2007) Edison’s eve: a magical history of the quest for mechanical life. Anchor Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Zivanovic A, Davis S (2011) Elegant motion: the senster and other cybernetic sculptures by edward ihnatowicz. Kybernetes 40:47–62CrossRefMATHGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Zylinska J (2002) The future … is monstrous: prosthetics as ethics. In: Zylinska J (ed) The cyborg experiments: the extensions of the body in the media age. Continuum, London, pp 214–36Google Scholar

Online References

  1. 33.
    Hysterical Machines (2004) http://billvorn.concordia.ca/robography/Hysterical.html. Accessed 29 June 2004
  2. 34.
    Norm the artist, the Oughtist, the Ner’er-do-well (1998) http://www.normill.ca/artpage.html. Accessed 27 June 2014
  3. 35.
    Rinaldo K (2004) www.kenrinaldo.com. Accessed 28 June 2014
  4. 36.
    Robot Wars History (n.d.) http://www.robotwars.tv/history. Accessed 25 June 2014
  5. 37.
    The Helpless Robot (2011) http://www.year01.com/archive/helpless/. Accessed 28 June 2014
  6. 38.
    The Telegarden (2011) www.ieor.berkeley.edu/~goldberg/garden/Ars/. Accessed 29 June 2014

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia

Personalised recommendations