Automata or a self-operating machine is traced from the Middle Ages. The idea of having this concept upgraded to artificial and lifelike being started around 2,700 years ago, said Adrienne Mayor, a researcher in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.
In Mayor’s book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology, he shared that the concept of robots, artificial intelligence, and self-moving objects was seen in the work of Homer and Hesiod, ancient Greek poets who were alive between 750 and 650 BCE.
Currently, there is an exhibition at the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greece in Central Athens showcasing a human figure of a robot that is dressed as a maid, holding a jug in its right hand. The hidden gears from the jar clicked and buzzed, as the robot lifts it and proceeds to pour wine into a bystander’s cup.
This robot is the automatic servant of Philon’s replica that was designed over 2,200 years back. Made by a Greek engineer, this re-creation operates using a composite system of springs, weights, as well as air pressure that made it possible to dilute alcohol with water.
This creation is the central focus of the exhibition of over 100 inventions highlighting Ancient Greece’s immense legacy of technology that also showcases an alarm clock, an analog computer, and even automatic fire doors.
Panagiotis Kotsanas, exhibition director, said that as one opens the hood of a modern car, screws, bolts and nuts, and automatic pilots will be seen immediately. These mechanisms were pioneered by ancient Greeks, the backbone of complex technology.
Audio-visual material and comprehensive diagrams were used to explain the exhibits. Many of these were also interactive.
Notable inventions featured include automatic doors, the precursor of the computer, alarm clock, repeating catapult, and syringe.
Deemed as the miracle of the gods were the automatic doors of Heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician. The doors were installed in a temple. What amazed the spectators was that the doors open when a fire is lit to generate heat. The heat brings about an atmospheric pressure build-up in a vessel, and the vessel is responsible for the pumping of water into huge holding containers. The holding containers will serve as the weights to open the door.
A 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism is considered to be the forebearer of the computer. This apparatus predicted astronomical and calendar events with the use of gears and dials and has helped the ancient Greeks to know more about the universe.
History’s first awakening device was invented by the famous philosopher Plato. Also a highlight of the exhibit, Plato’s alarm clock utilized a hydraulic system of vessels filled with water to whistle like a tea kettle to awaken people up.
Another re-creation was a repeating catapult called Polybolos, which launches a series of arrows, such as cryptography which helped them send coded messages during the war.
A syringe called Pyoulkos, a device used for injections and the removal of pus, is also in the exhibit.