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Galatea and Modern Robotics: The Allusion

At first glance, it would not seem that an ancient Grecian myth would have anything to do with modern robotics. Yet, whilst still not commonplace, the allusion to Galatea is slowly gaining popularity as a phrase used to reference modern robots and android/gynoids. Certainly as we move ever-closer to bridging the uncanny valley, this allusion makes ever more sense.

For those not blessed with an education in the classics, Galatea was a statue, carved out of a single block of marble into a life-sized model of the sculptor's dream-girl. The sculptor, Pygmalion, fell in love with the statue he had created, almost worshipping it in reverence. In his mind it became his dream girl, literally.

So enraptured was he, that one of the gods, the goddess Venus, took pity on him, and breathed life into the statue, bringing her into being as a fully animate human woman, who consented to be his bride and bear him children.

In essence then, Galatea was an inanimate creation that was made in human image, as close as was possible at the time, and then was imbued with the ability to move on her own, and -within set parameters- gained autonomous will. The bit about marrying her creator and bearing offspring goes off on a different tangent, but is essentially the tale of robot-rights, from a time long before there were robots.

The first part however, that of an inanimate, inorganic facsimile of a human being that begins to move and act on its own, spontaneously, and with no prior indication, is precisely what occurs when an android is switched on, or more aptly, switches itself on after a period of statue-like inactivity.

Ironically enough, the word android is itself, derived from the Greek. Two terms, one meaning 'man', and the other 'like'. Hence man-like. Likewise, you have woman-like, or gynoid. Under the strictest definition, Galatea herself would be defined as a gynoid when she first started to move. Of course after that point the definition becomes somewhat fuzzy, as she proves to Pygmalion just how much of a woman she is.

Still, the trend is clear. The terms android and gynoid are in common usage, used as catch-all descriptions for inorganic constructs that look human (to varying degrees), act human (again to varying degrees), and are generally integrated into society as faux humans.

Very much then, that allusion to Galatea as defined above. They are the modern equivalent, as she was the historical counterpart. We can only hope that the modern versions achieve the same level of acceptance and equal standing that she did. Of course, robot and synthetic being equality is a dfferent subject entirely.

References & Further Reading


VWN Dictionary: Android

VWN Dictionary: Gynoid

VWN Dictionary: Synthetic Consciousness

Aiko: The Gynoid

Saya: The Gynoid



Bulfinch's Mythology: Chapter 26

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