Smith, Michelle Mills
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Robot. Golem. Automaton. Android. The words for the “artificial human” are manifold, their composition as varied as their names—yet the concept is as old as history itself. From ancient creation mythology to modern household robots, humankind has had a tempestuous relationship with the artificial human. Whether formed of clay, grown from living tissue, or built of gears and circuitry, the artificial human is both the object of fascination and of terror. Across the centuries-old history of this relationship, the artificial human has proven a sounding board for our own ideas of “humanity” as realized within the cultural and intellectual millieux of any given historical moment. As the artificial human moves from our imagination into our reality, the “human yardstick” is called ever more into question, forcing us to redefine exactly what we mean by the term “human.” I propose that this redefinition is of necessity a performative one—that the essential traits of “being human” are based not in our genetic identity as Homo sapiens but in our social, cultural and behavioral identities, identities that we continually perform and modify based on the expectations of the historical moment. As such, this identity has been historically reinscribed in the artificial humans of our imagination, and is currently crossing into our reality through the emergence of social robotics. This study serves two purposes: first, as a transhistorical journey through the history of the artificial human, focusing on those moments when the relationship between the natural and the artificial human are their most poignant. This history leads from the kourai khryseai of Hephaestus to the sophisticated robots of modern science fiction, and thus the second facet of the dissertation: a demonstration of the performative nature of “humanity” through case studies of these sci-fi robots—beings that I argue hold claim to the status of Homo artificialis, true artificial people—and a glimpse into the implications of this as sociable robots enter our everyday lives.