Our Fascination With Mechanical Creations

An ancient Arabic machine  manuscript

An ancient Arabic machine manuscript

What’s so great about machines?

It’s easy to see how some of today’s mechanical marvels like NASA’s Mars Spirit Rover or The HRP-4C, created by The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), inspire jaw-dropping wonder. Who made that? And how on earth does it do that? Are all natural questions that come to mind in the face of these modern works. However, there’s something about animated bits of wire and metal that have intrigued humans for centuries.

The ancient Greek mathematician and engineer, Hero of Alexandria  (c.AD 10–70), was rumoured to have built robots made locomotive through the use of air pressure. Accounts of the creation of a human-like automaton even go back as far as the 10th century BC, in the ancient Chinese Lie Zi text. And since their existence, people have prophesied about what their role could be, for both good and evil. Even Aristotle had an opinion on robots. After noting Homer’s reference to them in Lliad, he speculated  that robots might one day bring world-wide human equality, ultimately ending any want for slaves.

But our fascination with machines extends far beyond robots… from the measly coffee maker to the mighty space shuttle, we’ve included many in both our daily and monumental rituals. And speaking of a monumental ritual, you may want to check out what went  at the Burning Man festival this week. Artists there put on a terrific display when they ran 3.2 billion base pairs of encoded DNA run through pattern-generating software that was projected via a 60 W Laser. Talk about blurring the line between art and science.

And speaking of art, perhaps our fascination with machines has more to do with what we gain from the process of creation itself. The famed robotocist, Masahiro Mori, stated the following in the Japan Times after founding the first nation-wide robot-building competition in Japan back in the 80′s: “When we lose ourselves in an activity, we become creative, friendly and funny. Think of how children are when they are playing. They are completely absorbed in the game; their eyes shine and they are all smiles. They’re into the game, not themselves”.

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