From Crosscut’s Knute Berger: The possibility that robots might one day run our lives has long been a fantasy and a fear. As a forward-looking tech-obsessed city, it should be no surprise that we’re right in the middle of inventing a future that features automation, artificial intelligence and robotics. Seattle stalwarts like Boeing, Paul Allen and Amazon are in the middle of it all. This is also a place where many people are thinking, although perhaps not hard enough, about the consequences of these technologies, which look to be huge.
Our history with robotic technology goes way back. In 1928, Seattleites met what was probably the first robot to visit the city, an automaton credited with being among the first that could perform real tasks. Its name was Televox, made by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Corporation. It was on display for several days in the Lloyd Building, where reporters and other influentials could meet “him” firsthand.
Big, tall Televox could do an array of helpful things, not unlike a smartphone app. He could answer the phone and turn on home appliances such as stoves, vacuum cleaners and electric fans via remote signals that sent commands in the form of electronic whistles. “Through his myriad wires and gadgets, he turns the sound into electric energy through a series of tubes and relays,” reported The Seattle Times. His usefulness in the home was readily apparent: “Televox…knows how to do most anything else, and, unlike most husbands, he obeys implicitly.”
By the time of Seattle’s futuristic Century 21 World’s Fair in 1962, automating office functions was becoming the norm, and while husbands, wives and maids hadn’t yet been replaced by Jetsons-style robots, some people worried about the impact of these machines beyond the home.
A time capsule placed in the renovated opera house at the time of the fair contained messages to Seattleites 50 years in the future from city officials.