Robots are the future, it would seem…

Robby the robot

LAS VEGAS CONSUMER ELECTRONIC SHOW JAN 6th – 9th 2016

There’s 71% more space dedicated to robots than in 2015.

Few think robots are ready to go mainstream just yet, but there’s still several companies worth keeping an eye on.

The US start-up Jibo is creating a lot of buzz after its “social robot” raised over $3.7m (£2.5m) on the crowd funding site Indiegogo.

There are a couple of new droids from France – the Buddy companion bot and Leka, a machine designed to stimulate children with autism and other developmental disorders.

And from Japan, Flower Robotics promises to bring “beauty” to the field by showing off robots designed to be as aesthetically pleasing as they are useful. You might appreciate its efforts in the future, when squadrons of the automatons are zipping about.

BBC PREVIEW OF THE SHOWJAN 2016

Rabbi Loew

Before we get too excited about the future and ‘squadrons of automatons zipping about’ we should not forget that the concept of robots, replicants and androids has been around for centuries. One of the great Cretan myths about Talos, the mechanical man who guarded the island from pirates, dates back to 400 years BC. An automaton with a similar defensive purpose was created in Czechoslovakia in the sixteenth century.

In 1580 the peace and harmony of the Jewish community in Prague was being threatened by a fanatical anti-Semite called Thaddeus who was spreading malignant rumours that the Jews were murdering Christian children and using their blood in religious rituals. When Rabbi Loew heard of this outrage he prayed to God for an answer. Never one to dawdle God came back with an immediate response…

“Ata Bra Golem Dewuk Hachomer W’tiggzar Zedim Chewel Torfe Jisrael” he recommended, which translates as…

Golem of Prague

“You shall create a Golem from clay, that the malicious anti-Semitic mob be destroyed”… a Golem being an animated anthropomorphic being, magically formed from inanimate matter like stone or clay.

Being a scrupulous omnipotent God also provided the good Rabbi with full instructions on how to make a Golem. Four elements were needed: – fire, water, air and clay from the River Vltava that runs through Prague. Following sacred Kabbalistic rituals and helped by his son-in-law Jizchak ben Simson and a disciple Jacob ben Chaim Sasson, Rabbi Loew created a clay figure, the Golem, which stood over 7 feet tall.

Rabbi Loew and the Golem

Rabbi Loew inserted a ‘Shem Hameforash ’, a small parchment carrying the true name of God into the Golem’s mouth and then ordered the creature to stand. Dressing the Golem as a servant the Rabbi effectively ‘programmed’ him…

“We have created you from clay. Your mission is to protect the Jews from persecution. Your name will be Josef and you will live in my house. You must obey my commands no matter when and wherever I might send you – into fire, into water, to jump from the roof and even to the seafloor.”

Unable to speak the Golem nodded his acceptance and soon set about dealing with Thaddeus and his anti-Semitic cronies. 13 years later, in 1593, the job was done. Rabbi Loew announced the end of Thaddeus’s libellous blood ritual accusations…

“The Golem has outlived his purpose. Therefore we shall send him from this world.”

The Rabbi had also heard stories that the Golem had fallen in love and on being rejected had gone on a murderous rampage. Once a loyal friend the Golem was now a liability.

old new synagogue

One night Rabbi Loew ordered the Golem not to sleep in his house as usual but to take his bed to the loft of the Old-New Synagogue. Two hours after midnight Rabbi Loew and his two associates, Jizchak and Jacob, began the process of “core-dumping” the Golem. First they performed all the original rituals stipulated by God – but in reverse. Then they removed the ‘Shem Hameforash – the parchment microchip’ from his mouth and his clothes which they secretly burnt. By now the Golem was no more than a pile of clay. They covered it with old prayer shawls and religious books and sealed it away in the loft of the synagogue. Rabbi Loew cautioned the entire Jewish community that the loft was never to be entered again. The story goes that the Golem remains there to this day. Workmen who entered the loft during the nineteenth century claimed that the outlines of a giant body could still be seen.

Three laws of robotics

Aware of the danger of murderous Robots running amok in 1942 the Science Fiction writer Isaac Isimov drew up the three Laws of Robotics…

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The next time you get whacked round the head by an automatic door or get your tie caught in the food mixer think about these things.

Isaac Asimov explaining the Three Laws of Robotics

— from Martyn Day