Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life

Adrienne Mayor. Princeton Univ, $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-691-18351-0
The Greeks thought of everything, including sci-fi tropes such as androids and artificial intelligence, according to this lively study of mythology and technology. Stanford classicist Mayor (The Amazons) surveys myths from ancient Greece (with excursions to India and China) about bio-techne, life crafted by artifice. She finds a trove of them, including those of the bronze warrior-robot Talos, who patrolled Crete, hurling boulders at ships and roasting soldiers alive; statues by the legendary engineer Daedalus, so lifelike that they had to be tethered to stay put; and marvels by the blacksmith god Hephaestus, including automated rolling tripods that served Olympian feasts and talking robot servants to help at his forge. Taking a more organic approach, the witch Medea, after defeating Talos with sweet talk and trickery, invented herbal drugs to reverse aging. Mayor also looks at real-life automata in ancient Alexandria—mechanical beasts and people that moved, vocalized, and dispensed milk to bemused onlookers. Drawing somewhat obvious parallels with modern gadgetry—self-piloting ships in The Odyssey remind her of GPS systems—and latter-day sci-fi, from Frankenstein to Robocop, Mayor ponders questions of what life is, how robots think, and whether people can love a sculpture. The answers aren’t especially deep, but Mayor’s exploration of the endless inventiveness of the Greek imagination makes for an engrossing read. Photos. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/13/2018
Release date: 11/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-691-18544-6
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-691-19342-7
Audio Product - 978-0-691-19302-1
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-0-691-19268-0
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