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  • Things to do, Exhibitions
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

An animatronic, wall-mounted baby greets you on entering the new Science Museum exhibition. Technically lifelike, it burbles, coos, wriggles its pudgy arms and – in a show of creepy-looking exhibits – manages to be pretty unnerving.

Five separate sections run through 500 years of robotic history. In the first room, we’re introduced to the bizarre religious origins of mechanical inventions. It tended to be monks and other holy types who first created devices such as timepieces, astronomical models and weirder stuff, like a clockwork crucifixion scene. Next up is the eighteenth-century craze for automatons: mechanised amusements such as the Silver Swan, a glittering marvel from 1774. (You’ll need to be in the exhibition at 10.25am on a weekday to catch it preening itself.)

Then, as if the curators were pre-empting cries of ‘Hey! Where are all the big, shiny famous metal dudes?’, there’s a room of cinema posters, toys, memorabilia and models of well-known fictional bots from ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘Blade Runner’ and so on. This turns out to be a bum move, since it needlessly sidetracks us from the real-life stuff. What follows next – a kind of robotic version of the evolution of man – is twice as thrilling.

Moving on from the era of motorised engineering to electronic programming, we watch the robots start to walk, talk and – cue the ‘Terminator’ theme tune – learn. The final space wrenches us into the present with a trade fair-like display of recent creations. Most are in the cutesy, iMac-with-limbs tradition. But then there’s the Japanese ‘newsreader’ Kodomoroid, with its prosthetic skin and glassy, lifeless eyes. This is why the sci-fi stuff wasn’t necessary: it already feels like we’re in the future. And given the dizzying rate of progress, creepy babies are just the start.


Written by
Matt Breen


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