Two thousand years of automation and robots

Robotic arm of a person

Robots in this world are not a thing of the future anymore. There are actually robots walking around and doing chores as we do. Some robots even have citizenship while some robots can think for themselves. Artificial Intelligence is also not a thing of the future, it is very much amongst us and there around us. AI and Robots were two of the most futuristic things 20 years ago. However, times have changed and they have just changed within 20 years, imagine how they would change in 50 years from now.

That being said, we are not going to talk about the future today, instead, we are going to talk about the past; a very distant past. The distant past is not 200 or 300 years but we are going to talk about a time which existed Before Christ. We are going to the era of Buddha when robots guarded the relics of Buddha. Yes, it is the half-truth when we talk about it. However, Adrienne Mayor, explains everything in her book Gods and Robots. She explains the very existence of robots in those days.

Robots were present even then, the automation was present even then. It is just that they are lost as time got the better of them. Thousands of years ago, according to Gods and Robots and some ancient Sanskrit scripts. During 492-460 BC, Ajatashatru reigned, a predecessor of Asoka. Ajatashatru had a task of guarding the remains of Buddha when the latter left the world. He built catapults, spinning blades, and even robots disguised as statues. These robots were made to guard the remains of Buddha. In Sanskrit scripts, these are described as ‘Bhuta Vahana Yanta’ which roughly translates to ‘spirit movement machines’. That said, her book also talks about Visvakarman who is known as the engineering god of Hindus.

However, her book travels to the Greco-Roman era as well. The Greco-Roman era also saw some automation and the robot makers were never allowed to leave the land. This is where the story of a young lad traveling from Pataliputra, Ajatashatru’s capital to the Greco-Roman land. This young lad brought back the robot makers’ secrets with him and helped King Ajatashatru to build an army of robots that guarded Buddha’s relics. Asoka later fought these robots to find the secrets behind the automation that existed then. He won and built his own army of robots.

Now, these guardians of Buddha’s relics are the truth with imagination according to Adrienne herself. She wrote for The Conversation and said that the idea of automation thousands of years ago seems impossible but we can never know.

She writes, “I cannot hope to pinpoint the original date of the legend, but it is plausible that the idea of robots guarding Buddha’s relics melds both real and imagined engineering feats from the time of Ajatashatru and Asoka. This striking legend is proof that the concepts of building automatons were widespread in antiquity and reveals the universal and timeless link between imagination and science.”

Like shays, we will never know but this universal link between imagination, science, and engineering will never end. It is a timeless phenomenon which will help this world move forward and upwards towards its dream of existing forever.

-Unmesh Phule

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