Flirting With Humanity

There have been machines that move themselves for millennia. In the first century C.E., the Greek mathematician Hero of Alexandria designed dolls that could be used to act out miniature theatrical scenes. The original treatises he wrote about these automata were lost to history. But a group of Sicilian scholars discovered Arabic translations in the thirteenth century. Translating into Latin, the monks coined a new term for automata that looked human: androïdes, from andros, the Greek word for “man.” Androids have always inspired mythmaking. In the thirteenth century, legend spread that a Dominican bishop named Albertus Magnus had built an Iron Man to guard his chamber. It stood at the entrance, hearing the petitions of visitors and either allowing them an audience or not, until one day, the bishop’s protégé,…


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