Robots, Robots, Robots: They Rule in Industry, Technology and CulturePosted: June 24, 2020 Filed under: Books, Technology 2 Comments
Since there’s very little theater to review these days–occasionally a virtual reading or video replay–so I’ve been doing some book reviews. This book, a history of robots and automation, was particularly interesting as the author blends in aspects of how robots have appeared in popular culture over the centuries–dancing or playing chess and as characters in books, film and theater. The book traces how automatons led to automation, cybernetics and artificial intelligence in industry and weaves in examples of robots in culture.
Here’s my review of The American Robot: A Cultural History from University of Chicago Press. The author, Dustin A. Abnet, teaches American studies at Cal State Fullerton.
The book’s cover image shows a boy demonstrating Ideal Toy Company’s Robert the Robot, a popular remote-controlled toy in 1959.
I quite enjoyed your review, Nancy, and it brought back a lot of my own childhood and introduction to robots. The pop culture of robots owes a huge debt to the late Issac Asimov, whose robot series comprised six full-length novels and 37 short stories. The most notable novels are I, Robot (which was eventually adapted into a very poor Hollywood movie) and Caves of Steel. It’s worth noting that in 1977, The Alan Parsons Project released “I, Robot” as a full-length concept album, drawing heavily from Asimov’s source material.
I think it’s also worth noting that Bradbury’s “I Sing the Body Electric” began, as you noted, as a Twilight Zone episode (the 100th episode of the series) and was later written by Bradbury in short story format and published in a 1969 collection bearing the same name.
For as long as I can remember, robots have been a part of my existence vis-a-vis pop culture. From the 1960s Lost in Space series to 2001: A Space Odyssey to Astro boy to Rosie (on The Jetsons) to Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the evil robot Ash in the 1979 horror film Alien, it seems as if robots are everywhere.
One of my favorite short stories about robots is entitled “The Iron Chancellor” (Robert Silverberg, 1957) and features a “robo-servitor” that is supposed to help its owners to lose weight by preparing healthy meals. Of course things go horribly wrong when the robot malfunctions and considers even the smallest calorie an offense. It’s a clever story with a fun ending. It was adapted for radio and is part of the X-Minus One series, available on YouTube or at archive.org.
Lastly, I would add that the two most famous and influential robots are, without a doubt, R2-D2 and C-3PO. I can’t think of any other robot, or robots, having such a long-sustaining impact on so many generations.
Anyway, well done on the review. The book sounds like a very good read. And thanks for mentioning the robot powder room. It’s an ongoing work in progress for sure.
Thanks, David, for your insightful comments. You’ve added a whole new dimension to my review!
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