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Gods and Robots: The Ancient Quest for Artificial Life

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  450 ratings  ·  90 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, an
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by Princeton University Press (first published November 2018)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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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 all, the my
Peter Tillman
I had this out for quite awhile from the library. First few chapters were hit-or-miss, so I set it aside. When it was coming due, I picked it up again and -- it got better! So, had she hooked me at the start, I'd likely have read the whole thing. So, if you try it, skim until you find something compelling, is my advice. There is some good stuff here. Those ancient engineers and craftsman were remarkable. Maybe I'll try again? But so many books....

Rating is for what I read. Something over half? I
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, robotics,
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
I DNF'd this, but not because it's a bad book. The information is interesting but it reads like an academic paper. The author compares and contrasts a lot of theories and analyses put forth by other experts in the fields of mythology, philosophy, ethics, robitics, AI, and the technology of ancient civilizations. Unfortunately, I don't have a particular interest or good enough base knowledge in any of those topics to actually get much out of this book. I felt like I stumbled into a 301 class inst ...more
Elizabeth Sund
This is much to repetitive to be enjoyable, but the content is interesting. I was glad to learn more about Talos, Media, Deadalus, and Hephaestus. It has the repetition often found in academic texts where each chapter is designed to stand on its own, rather than written as a cohesive book. The "connections" to today were not needed. She references Blade Runner like 30 times! She never mentions Ultron though, which surprised me.

Really fascinating if you‘re somewhat interested in the history of how humans think about robots and AI. Gives you an abundance of food for thought!
Erkan Saka
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sts
It is impressive to see how ancient imaginations can be connected to STS thinking.
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 scholars, scientists, cra
Angela Boord
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Really interesting subject matter, but the book seems unsure whether it's written to an academic or general audience, so it can be a little dry at times. The collection and analysis of the myths together with the archaeological discoveries and historical accounts that illuminate them is fantastic. ...more
Ninja Notion
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
Noah Goats
Science fiction is a much older genre than we usually assume. In Gods and Robots Adrienne Mayer traces ideas about technology and artificial life ("life through craft") all the way back to the ancient Greeks whose myths include technological marvels ranging from Talos, the powerful moving statue with veins filled with ichor, to Daedalus and his fantastic inventions. This book is, at it's best, fascinating and eye opening. Unfortunately, sometimes, too often, Mayor gets carried away and claims th ...more
Michael Hauge
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
"Gods and Robots" is at once too broad and too narrow; too academic and too conversational; too technical and too simplistic. A more appropriate subtitle might specify that the overwhelming focus of the book is on Greek myth, with lip service paid to Chinese and Indian civilizations. I was frustrated throughout by the maddening half-academic style, full of three-word quotations of unnamed scholars and references to itself ('see chapter 3,' for example). I would have preferred to either read an a ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but anticipated liking this more than I did.
Sep 11, 2021 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating topic, but it’s clearly written for an academic rather than popular audience, so it’s really not working as an audiobook for my daily walks.
Aug 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a fairly academic book, and not necessarily the most accessible, but endlessly fascinating and highly informative. I have very little classical education so this book actually helped me learn a lot of Classical mythology and narrative, and in that sense it was actually a very satisfying use of my time.

Many of the theologians I admired during my turn leftwards were focused on questions of technology: Ivan Illich, Jacques Ellul, Ursula Franklin, and Paul Virilio – not all of whom I stil
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 aren't mentio
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". ...more
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.
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.
Chris Esposo
“Gods and Robots” is an interesting premise, a study of comparative ancient mythology with the eye towards understanding how people in early human history conceived of things like automation, robotics, and more broadly, ‘life creation’ (or at the very least agency creation). The actual execution of this book falls a bit short of that lofty promise, but what we get is still pretty good, and as far as I can tell, the first non-academic book on this topic.

What Mayor has written is an interesting
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 absurd. Speak
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
Aug 01, 2021 rated it liked it
This book covers a fascinating topic, and having read the introductory text I was expecting to be wowed by a work of 4- or 5-star quality. Potentially, this is such a book. The author has clearly conducted extensive research (especially with regard to ancient Greek myths) and supplies many captivating examples.
The book really needs a re-working, though.
Firstly, in terms of structure and content. It just doesn't seem as if there is a clear plan to the order of arrangement. I don't see clear deve
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.

Pretending that nothi
Oct 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of technology and lovers of thought.
Adrienne Mayor has definitely entered my list of "Authors to Pay Attention To". She was added to that list while I was only partway thru this marvelous manuscript on how the ancient Greeks used the ideas of robots and artificial life to explore the dangers and wonders of being human. Drawing on the ancient myths, most of which you undoubtably know, she paints a picture of people searching for answers. Of trying to come to grips of what we are, how we came to be, and how to be whatever that is.

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
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
Curt Bobbitt
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
This study uses numerous ancient sources beyond Homer and the well-known Greek tragedians to describe objects “made, not born.” The bibliography lists 251 sources, 92 published since 2009. The most in-depth sections elaborate legendary creations of Hephaestus and Daedalus.

Many of the fictional objects described conflate magic with technology, especially details about Medea’s extension of Aeson’s life span and tricking Pelias’s daughters into killing their father.
The least persuasive sections d
B. Rule
This light but diverting read is basically a compendium of ancient automata, although Mayor tries to dress it up a little with an epilogue musing about what such stories tell us in the face of an impending AI revolution. She doesn't do much significant analysis on that point, other than noting that the same questions and concerns motivated ancient myth. To her credit, the volume documents a handful of non-Western myths (primarily Chinese and Indian), although the bulk of her anecdotes are culled ...more
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