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Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  155 ratings  ·  37 reviews
The fascinating untold story of how the ancients imagined robots and other forms of artificial life--and even invented real automated machines

The first robot to walk the earth was a bronze giant called Talos. This wondrous machine was created not by MIT Robotics Lab, but by Hephaestus, the Greek god of invention. More than 2,500 years ago, long before medieval automata, a
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by Princeton University Press (first published November 2018)
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May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Three and half stars.

Gods and Robots intends to make a comparison between the ancient myths -mostly greek and roman- and our modern science fiction dreams.

As I said, the book is just a comparison, it does not explain a cause effect or an influence between classical myths and contemporary science fiction stories. It is clear that the author is an expert in classical mythology but not in the science fiction genre. However she is well informed and the comparisons are clever. And, above
Peter Mcloughlin
It appears people in the ancient world imagined creatures crafted by gods or sorcerors that seem akin to Robots, Be it Haephestus building Talos or Medea conjuring creatures that are made not born. People have imagined artificial life longer than we imagine. That is not to say that these ideas exactly match our ideas of AI or Robots but there does seem to be a relationship in the ancient myths to our modern ideas however vague.
Peter Tillman
Dec 23, 2018 marked it as to-read
I know, title sounds like a cheesy fantasy anthology, but...
Here's the WSJ review, likely paywalled:
"You could be forgiven for rolling your eyes at the front cover of Adrienne Mayor’s “Gods and Robots.” It depicts a generic ancient Greek—pointy beard, knee-length tunic—using a hammer to fix an arm onto a dinky robot skeleton. At first sight, this looks very much like a variant on that tired visual trope of ancient marble statues wearing Ray-Bans and suchlike. Just look how relevant the
Jacopo Quercia
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First and foremost, WOW!

'Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life' is a remarkable achievement that will completely transform the way you look at Ancient Greece. Written by Stanford University Prof. Adrienne Mayor, this book is an exhaustive study on how the Greeks approached artificial / augmented life creatively, artistically, and even practically. You will not believe how closely the imagination of the ancients resembles the modern era with respect to artificial life
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
'Taken together, the myths, legends, and lore of past cultures about automata, robots, replicants, animated statues, extended human powers, self-moving machines, and other artificial beings, and the authentic technological wonders that followed, constitute a virtual library and museum of ancient wisdom and experiments in thinking, a priceless resource for understanding the fundamental challenges of biotechnology and synthetic life on the brink today. A goal of this book has been to suggest that ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have long contended that we can trace the origins of fantasy fiction to ancient myth. And now, with this meticulously researched book, I am able to argue that we can also trace the origins of Science Fiction to mythology.

Adrienne Mayor has written a book which provides further evidence of the versatility of myth. And another means to find new meanings in these (very) old stories.

As her book strengthens the case for the study of myth, she also shows how myth has helped s
Liss Carmody
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did ancient Greeks, in the midst of their philosophical, mystical, and scientific musings, contemplate the possibility of artificial life, artificial intelligence, humanoid automatons, or self-driving technology? Mayor delves into these questions with a canny, clear-eyed survey of ancient Greek thought, picking through mythological examples of magical devices and persons to identify examples of biotechnology, people or animals fabricated and given life through mechanical (even if sometimes magi- ...more
Bryan Cebulski
It was entertaining and had some interesting stories, but I wish it had more intellectual strivings or something. Like, there's not much analysis here. More just a long list of "Hey, you like pop culture X? Well the classical world had an antecedent in Y".
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ancient-history
What it says on the cover.

Looks at Daedalus, Prometheus, Hephaestus and their mythological influence on ancient creators and their modern counterparts.

Extremely interesting read.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very redundant and text book like. Although I liked the subject matter, I grew tired of the constant review or reference to other chapters, especially if the information was repeated again.
This is a fascinating journey through ancient Greek mythology while touching on other mythologies along the way.

This is not so much a revelation is a reinterpretation, a different way of looking at those old myths and ideas through the lens of automation and artificial life. I know some might object to the idea of the ancient Greeks thinking in those terms, but there's no way to say for certain that none of them did. This notion that we can't think beyond technological precedent is a
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a masterclass of overthinking and 20/20 hindsight. Everybody knows the Greek mythology is a rich world of wonders and hate, godlike humans and human-like gods. And since they are told/written as timeless stories, they are specifically extremely vague so your imagination can fill the holes by whatever means your current environment allows. So of course the author finds robots, androids, nanomaterials and other "magic" that nowdays means "science" everywhere in the historical tellings. The ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provides some evidence to show that humans have always imagined robots and machines as part of an underlying thread that we have carried with us throughout history. It's a great read in the sense that she goes deep into a narrow slice of the human literary tradition. Mayor tries to show that ancient stories, primarily of the Greek and Roman gods, and their complicated relationship with the human race, were a way for these civilizations to imagine automaton, robots, androids, and human ...more
Andrei Barbu
Nov 12, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Racist, narrow, ahistorical, shallow, and lazy.

This book is disappointing and intentionally mismarketed. I doubt most people would read it after an honest description. The vast majority of the book is just looking at the same Greek myths over and over again reinterpreting them in absurd and ahistorical ways. There's just about one chapter to do with technology or machines here. Otherwise it's only myths and only Greek myths, as if there was nothing else in the ancient world.
A beautifully written, lavishly illustrated, and highly thought-provoking account of how the concerns with automatons and human enhancement are not just modern but indeed ancient. Focused mainly on Greek mythology, but with glances at other mythological traditions, Mayor argues that the concerns of the present about AI and gene-editing are not merely the products of new technology but have abided within Western thought for millennia. My only critique is that she pays little attention to how the ...more
Ryan Denson
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Adrienne Mayor’s Gods and Robots broadly examines the theme of biotechne and myths about living things that are “made, not born” in the ancient world. Mythological inventors and craftsman deities like Daedalus and Hephaestus take center stage here as Mayor describes a wide range of αὐτόματα and other artificial creations. This also includes real life tinkers and the inventions actually created (or at least planned), especially in Hellenistic Alexandria. Defining what constitutes something that i ...more
Dr. A.R. Davis
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mayor assembles a fascinating picture of artificial life being born in mythology and emerging into the real world during ancient times. This is a scholarly work, not a work of popular science. For me, that was perfect, as I used it for background research for my latest sci-fi novel, Turing’s Nightmares. There is repetition though, as Mayor takes ancient myths, stories, dramas, and fragments of manuscripts, jewelry, painted pottery, complete or in shards, and pieces them together in various patte ...more
Emily Auger
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019, reviewed
Fascinating book detailing the representation of artificial beings and AI in ancient Greek mythology and art. Hephaestus, Medea, Daedalus, Pygmalion, and Prometheus are the star players. Their basic stories will be familiar to many readers, but Mayor's accomplishment is all in the research, details, and overall compilation. Very readable, lots of illustrations, lots of pithy myth-sourced anecdotes, and lots of parallels to contemporary counterparts in science fiction and in science reality. Enjo ...more
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative and interesting, if a bit dry! Also, I have never read a book that used the word "antiquity" so frequently as this one.

Overall a really interesting read that recaps many Greek myths and relates them to modern concepts of robotics and artificial intelligence. If you're hoping for a comprehensive, globe-spanning look at robots in mythology, you'll be disappointed, as Eastern mythologies are touched upon very slightly, while Norse, Celtic, Maori, and many other mythologies a
May 04, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Rambling and disorganized, this book is in dire need of editing, and should be about 70% shorter. Single paragraphs would lose their way after the first sentence, and a bulk of the material is a repetition of the same shallow analysis of three or four core myths. Expect to be bombarded with ancient names, but with no follow up discussion on their relevance or contributions. There were some interesting facts, and source material is well documented, thus the second star.
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting overview of the ideas of robots and androids and how they relate to (mostly) Greek myth, as well as some information about various mechanical devices that the Greeks actually came up with.

My favorite chapter, for a certain value of "favorite," was the one about how apparently a lot of men were sexually attracted to statues and it wasn't just a Galatea thing.
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
very interesting look into the minds of technically oriented ancient people and how they thought about reproducing nature and man; through their myths and legends about craftsmen and crafty gods.
also peppered in alot of idoosycratic stuff that the author likes such as the new blade runner movie and of all thins.. Laputa.. the Iron Maiden/pandora/Metropolis analogies are very interesting too
aaron gordon
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not what I had expected however the author does know her subject and makes her point. I expected more historical recounting of automata related to religious practice and what I found was a tale of myth and science driving one another. Chapter 9 was right down my alley and the epilogue was insightful and well written.
Ed Kulis
Excellent portrayal of ancient tech not well known. Robots in the equivalent of the Macy's day parade 50 feet high. Many small robots that could stand, move and serve wine. Greek statues were painted so realistically that people would fall in love with them. And Pandora was a sexually attractive robot meant to lure humans to their destruction.
Michael Norwitz
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
An assessment of the uses of advanced technology as depicted in Greek myth. I'd have liked more depth although, given the scanty records, there probably isn't much more depth available. Easily readable and a good resource for other writers.
Luke Smith
Oct 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love classics and scifi so this was a match made in heaven. The real joy lay in a deep dive of familiar myths via a focus on AI and robotics, cross pollination of cultures and the revelation that Pandora's box was in fact, a jar. Great fun
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best chapter is the last one (9) and it’s a slog to get there. The author spends a ton of time convincing us (sometimes weakly) that certain characters in myth were biotechnae and then barely spends time summarizing hundreds of years of more relevant myths from other cultures. Hmf.
Jamie Showrank
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent I would recommend this as Kindle or book and not audio. Narrator was fine. So much wondrous historical content that may be best consumed as reading and not listening. Very good!
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Actually I think it deserves 41/2 stars.
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but anticipated liking this more than I did.
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